Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Red Dawn Committee (M-L)

Critique of OL’s Opportunism

O.L.’s Belittling of Theory

The OL has been characterized by an utter disregard for theory. They have consistently tried to justify their belittling of theory while tailing whatever movement seemed the fashion at the time and altering their line to suit the popular mood. Marxism-Leninism, on the other hand, emphasizes the need for theory. Marxism-Leninism is not based on wishful thinking about building Utopias or doing what might seem nice. It is a science, a theory based on much accumulated historical experience, study, investigation, social practice, and criticism and self-criticism. Like all sciences, there are general laws and particular applications that differ in differing circumstances and,

the foundation of the activities of every Communist Party... must be the general features of capitalism, which are the same for all countries, and not its specific features in any given country... Specific features are only supplementary to the general features. (Stalin’s Speeches to the American Communist Party, p,11)

Thus, much study of the general laws of scientific socialism is required if they are to be applied correctly.

While basing ourselves on these general laws, we have to answer the particular questions of the U.S. revolution. We believe that this work must be centered around the drafting of a party program, a program which encompasses an analysis of the objective and subjective conditions of the world, the particular features of the U.S., and the strategy and tactics for the socialist revolution. This can’t be a superficial analysis. It must address itself to the different economic conditions and political systems in the world.

Communists in the U.S. must develop a comprehensive class analysis of the U.S.A., including the conditions of the various classes and strata, and their relationship to the proletarian revolution. Another question that must be taken up in the party program is the struggle against national oppression and national chauvinism. We not only need a clear position on the national question in general, but also on the specific economic and political conditions and demands of the many national movements in the U.S.

Our movement has long been dominated by opportunism. Each attempt to break with this opportunism has ended mired in the same swamp because there was no break with the ideological basis of all opportunism, but only with particular political lines. This ideological basis is the theory of spontaneity.

The theory of spontaneity is a theory of negating the dialectical relationship between thinking and being or matter and consciousness. It vulgarizes materialism by negating dialectics. It absolutizes the objective process in the development of human society in particular, belittling the revolutionary role of the subjective factor, or the conscious element.

The petty-bourgeois democrats who temporarily ride supreme in the movement have completely abandoned or are unable to grasp the correctness of Marx’s teaching that “Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” (Quoted in Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Stalin, p. 12) It is true that the working class spontaneously gravitates toward scientific socialism as a direct result of its conditions. The very economic relations of production and forces of production of modern industrial society have made possible the emergence of the working class and of scientific socialism. But this doesn’t at all negate the necessity for the proletariat to become fully conscious of itself as a class. This consciousness means the working class has to know, not only itself, but the bourgeoisie, all other classes and strata, and the history of class society in general. Promoting this consciousness is one of the responsibilities of the communists, which can only be accomplished by methodically and consistently propagating Marxism-Leninism among the workers, bringing about the actual organizational unity of communism and the working class. Winning the advanced workers to communism is a necessary step in this process.

Revolutions in the past have replaced one system of exploitation with another “more advanced” system of exploitation. But the development of capitalism has laid bare the underlying nature of human society and the mechanism of its development for us to see. The proletariat is thus in the position to make its revolution, not as a dumb plaything of social forces as in previous revolutions, but rather as the master of these social forces. It is only with this mastery that the proletariat can accomplish its revolution and end all exploitation. This is why theory is so important to the proletariat.

Engels wrote:

The forces operating in society work exactly like the forces of nature – blindly, violently and destructively, so long as we fail to understand them and take them into account. But once we have recognized them and understood their action, their trend and their effects, it depends solely on ourselves to increasingly subject them to our will and.to attain our ends through them. (Anti-Duhring, p. 361)

He continued:

It is the difference between the destructive force of electricity in the lightning of a thunderstorm and the tamed electricity of the telegraph and the arc light, the difference between a conflagration and fire working in the service of man. (Ibid., P. 361)

The theory of spontaneity denies the need for the workers to grasp and use the laws of society. This theory insists that the laws of society show that the spontaneous struggles of the working class will by themselves lead to socialism, without the need for any consciousness of this goal or of how to attain it. This is why the theory of spontaneity belittles the need for harpist theory. For the opportunists, dialectical and historical materialism become merely a description of this supposed blind march to socialism, rather than a tool of the working class in its emancipation.

All the opportunists of our movement are followers of the theory of spontaneity. OL is no exception. This can be seen in their tailing not only the spontaneous movement, but also within the communist movement and even after sections of the bourgeoisie. And of course, failure to take up Marxist theoretical work most clearly shows their worship of spontaneity.

In only two areas has OL even made any attempt at carrying out the theoretical work we need. The first was the national question, especially the Afro-American national question. Here the contributions they have made are totally erroneous and white chauvinist, and we devote a whole section of this issue to their liquidation of the revolutionary struggle of the Black nation. At this point, we will only mention that while they have upheld the right of the Black nation to self-determination, they did not fight for this line against the Revolutionary Union with its “nation-of-a-new-type” position. They only began to elaborate their own stand after the Black Workers’ Congress and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization openly attacked the RU’s great nation chauvinism on the Afro-American question.

OL’s other foray into theory ended in disaster. After publishing a book on The Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR, and praising it to the hilt, OL expelled its author, Martin Nicolaus, from their central committee. They denounced his line and class stand, but to this date, have not ventured to print a comprehensive statement on the positive and negative points in this book they were distributing.

Beyond these two areas – nothing. Their magazine Class Struggle has contained, out-of-context reprints from the Communist International, contradictory “inside reports” on events in China, and many other articles which avoid real theoretical work.

The political tailism of the October League is well-known. After Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, they jumped on the impeachment bandwagon and called for a movement to stem the “fascist tide.” But when Nixon resigned, apparently the fascist tide turned, because OL stopped talking about it. Later they admitted that they had overestimated the danger of fascism, but they did not explain the source of their error. It was the theory of spontaneity, which led them to act as though the discontent of the masses with Nixon was a revolutionary movement. They did not expose impeachment as the biggest cover-up, but tailed the bourgeois movement for impeachment.

Probably the clearest example of OL’s tailing the spontaneous movement of the masses is their worship of the “Fightback”. They have devoted an entire section of their party program to the “Fight-back.” In this section they expose their view of the struggle of the people to maintain their living standards in the face of the onslaught of capital: “The deepening of the crisis creates the conditions for revolution as working and oppressed peoples rise up against the capitalist system which is increasingly stripped bare of its ’democratic’ and ’prosperous’ disguise.” (p.85-84) It is apparent from this statement in their program that OL believes that strikes and marches against wage cuts, lay-offs, and elimination of services represent the masses rising up against the capitalist system. This is the theory of spontaneity without any mask. According to this view, there is no need for Marxist propaganda because the movement is already revolutionary. Instead of urging us to divert the “fight-back” onto a revolutionary course, OL advises us to “build it.”

To avoid this kind of opportunist mistake in the future, we have to make a decisive break with the theory of spontaneity. We have to bring all the energy, emotion and intellect we showed in the fights against the Vietnam War, and against all economic and national oppression, and use them in the struggle against opportunism. In our movement today, revisionism and petty-bourgeois democracy are dominant. There is no single organized leading center representing a definite proletarian trend. We believe that we must make our theoretical work primary if we are going to overcome the traditions of pragmatism and American exceptionalism in this country. We do not see postponing practical work until the theoretical work is complete; in fact we expect to be judged by the work we do in winning advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism, just as we will judge others on that basis. But we believe that today, our main tasks are theoretical, and we will seek unity with others to do that work.