Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Red Dawn Committee (M-L)

Critique of OL’s Opportunism

The Advanced Workers and Party Building

The emancipation of the working class must be an act of that class itself. The proletarian revolution cannot be imported, nor is it the product of a military coup d’etat. The proletarian vanguard cannot do it alone, nor can the proletariat do it without its vanguard. Thus, the importance of developing a party that is really revolutionary is that since such a party is necessary for revolution, the party created must be actually capable of leading the masses in the seizure of power.

In the U.S., at present this proletarian party does not exist. We not only do not have a vanguard leadership, but also, the masses are not yet ready to make the proletarian revolution. How do we fulfill these two essential tasks of building the vanguard party and mobilizing the masses? What is the correct relation between these two tasks?

These basis questions are not new in the history of the international communist movement. On the contrary, there exists a wealth of experience that we can draw from and apply to our present concrete conditions.

In preparation for the Second Congress of the Communist International held in 1920, Lenin wrote the book “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder. In it he laid out some of the basic lessons of the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution, and taught that “the Russian model [of revolution] reveals to all countries something, and something very essential, of their near and inevitable future.” (Peking ed., p. 2) Now, at that time, Lenin was mainly addressing the tasks of parties that were already formed or almost formed, and were about to prepare to lead the masses, and not those groups trying to form parties. Nevertheless, he made important references to the relation of the tasks of building the vanguard party and mobilizing the masses. He said:

The main thing – not everything by a very long way, of course, but the main thing – has already been achieved in that the vanguard of the working class has been won over, in that it has ranged itself on the side of Soviet government against parliamentarism, on the side of the dictatorship of the proletariat against bourgeois democracy. Now all efforts, all attention, must be concentrated on the next step – which seems, and from a certain standpoint really is – less fundamental, but which, on the other hand, is actually closer to the practical carrying out of the task namely, seeking the forms of transition or approach to the proletarian revolution. “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. But it is still a fairly long way from victory. (pp. 96-97)

It is our view that this fully applies to the conditions in the U.S. today. What has to capture our attention at present is that the proletarian vanguard has not yet been won over ideologically to communism, and that this “first step” is still the “main thing” for us. Without completing this task, we can never win over the masses. If we do not first win over the vanguard, and instead proceed directly to concentrate on winning over the masses, as the right opportunists do, then we will inevitably tall the spontaneous movement, be swept up in it, and be unprepared to lead it in a revolutionary way. The only kind of “leaders” we would become is reformist leaders, the “best” organizers of the reform and trade union struggles.

Lenin pointed out that in Russia “the advanced worker, as always and everywhere, determined the character of the movement, and they were followed by the working masses because they showed their readiness and their ability to serve the cause of the working class, because they proved able to win the full confidence of the masses.” (“A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy,” C.W., Vol. p.260) We thus see that if Marxist-Leninists throw themselves into the mass movement, without having first educated and organized the advanced workers to play their leading role, then the character of that movement will not be determined by the advanced workers. Instead, the movement will inevitably be backward, restricted to partial reform demands, and bound to soon fizzle out. Thus, winning over the vanguard of the proletariat must be our main task now, and is a prerequisite for winning over the masses.

Lenin went on in “Left-Wing” Communism to lay out two essential means for winning over the vanguard of the proletariat and building the party. First he said:

...the first historical task (that of winning over the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat to Soviet power and the dictatorship of the working class) could not be accomplished without a complete ideological and political victory over opportunism and social-chauvinism. (P.98)

Only in this way can we proceed correctly in the building and nurturing of a proletarian trend that must carry out the work of drawing clear lines of demarcation between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism. This is the only uay that a dear rupture with opportunism can occur, something that has not qualitatively taken place in the U.S. communist movement since the degeneration of the CPUSA. We have explained our views on this question in the previous section of this article.

Second, Lenin said:

...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 was in the forefront} even propaganda circles, with all the defects of the circle spirit, are useful under these conditions and produce fruitful results. (p.98)

Stalin, in summarizing Lenin’s teachings on these historical tasks, formulated it this way:

10. Tasks:
a. To win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism (i.e., build up cadres create a Communist Party, work out the programme, the principles of tactics). Propaganda as the chief form of activity.
b. To win the broad masses of the workers and of the toilers generally to the side of the vanguard (to bring the masses up to the fighting positions). Chief form of activity – practical action by the masses as a prelude to decisive battles.” (The Political Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Communists, Works, Vol.5, p.82-83)

This section will deal with the question of making propaganda the chief form of activity, of putting it “in the forefront” to win over the proletarian vanguard, and of OL’s economist deviation on these points.

In What Is To Be Done? Lenin outlined the distinction between propaganda and agitation. He explains:

...a propagandist, dealing with, say, that same question of unemployment, must explain the capitalistic nature of crises, the reasons why they are inevitable in contemporary society, etc. In a word, he must present “many ideas,” so many indeed that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons. An agitator, however, speaking on the same subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and most widely known to his audience, say, the death from starvation of the family of an unemployed worker, the growing impoverishment, etc., and utilizing this fact, which is known to all and sundry, will direct all his efforts to presenting a single idea to the’masses,’ i.e., the idea of the senselessness of the contradiction between the increase of wealth and increase of poverty; he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice, and leave a more complete explanation of this contradiction to the propagandist. Consequently, the propagandist operates chiefly by means of the printed word; the agitator by means of the living word. (Peking ed., p. 82-83)

It is already evident from this explanation that the party’s press is the chief means for propaganda, and that the newspaper, although it includes both propaganda and agitation, is mainly propaganda. This is because, as Lenin taught, the newspaper must “be at the level of the advanced workers,” (“A Retrograde Trend”, CW, Vol. 4, p.28), which means propaganda “understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons,” that is, the advanced, and not aimed at the masses, as is agitation.

Why did Lenin insist that the vanguard of the proletariat could only be won over to communism through political propaganda and agitation? In What Is To Be Done? Lenin taught the now famous thesis that socialist consciousness cannot arise spontaneously from the struggle of the workers against their employers. Socialism is a science that was developed by bourgeois Intellectuals, and had to be introduced to the workers from outside the spontaneous movement. Therefore, in order to accomplish this task, the party’s newspaper had to clearly put out a Marxist-Leninist line, teach scientific socialism, and “be at the level of the advanced workers both to educate them in this science and raise all other workers up to their level. In explaining how to introduce this science, Lenin said:

Working-class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, “violence and abuse no matter what class in affected. Moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic, and not from any other point of view. The consciousness of the masses of the workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist. estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. Those who concentrate the attention, observation and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social-Democrats; for its self-realisation is indissolubly bound up not only with a fully clear theoretical - it would be even more true to say not so much with a theoretical, as with a practical understanding of the relationships between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through experience of political life. That is why the idea preached by our Economists, that the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into the political movement, is so extremely harmful and extremely reactionary in its practical significance. In order to become a Social-Democrat, the worker must have a clear picture in his mind of the economic nature and the social and political features of the landlord and the priest, the high state official and the peasant, the student and the tramp; he must know their strong and weak points,; he must see the meaning of all the catchwords and sophisms by which each class and each stratum camouflages its selfish strivings and its real “inside workings”; he must understand what interests certain institutions and certain laws reflect and how they reflect them. But this “clear picture” cannot be obtained from books. It can be obtained only from living examples and from exposures, following hot upon the heels of what is going on around us at a given moment, of what is being discussed, in whispers perhaps, by each one in his own way, of the meaning of such and such events, of such and such statistics, of such and such court sentences, etc., etc., etc. These comprehensive political exposures are an essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity. (p.86-87)

The activity described above was in the main accomplished throng the establishment of the all-Russian political newspaper, “Iskra,” and the creation of an organisation of professional revolutionaries around it. This fulfilled the task of making “propaganda the chief form of activity, putting propaganda “in the forefront” to win the vanguard of the proletariat to communism. “Iskra” became the collective propagandist, collective agitator, and collective organiser for the Bolshevik Party.

Clearly these tasks have not been accomplished in the U.S. We are in the stage of the preparation for just such a vanguard party to lead the proletariat and the oppressed people in the fight for emancipation. This comparable period in the development of the Bolshevik Party is referred to by Stalin as “the period of the formation of the vanguard (i.e., the party) of the proletariat, the period of mustering the Party’s cadres.” (Works, Vol.5, p.87-88) Further elaborating on this point, ho describes this first historical task:

...a. welding of the main core, especially the “Iskra” group, and so forth. Fight against Economism, the Credo, [manifesto of the Economists]
...b. Formation of Party cadres as the basis of the future workers’ party on an all-Russian scale.” (1895-1903). The Second Party Congress.” (Ibid, p.72)

This speaks directly to our tasks. It should be obvious that the tasks and character of the organization of communists will differ in each stage. We are in the stage of “welding the main core.” We have yet to build a leading theoretical and practical center, such as the Iskra group, and we not yet have a nation-wide leading organ or party program. We must still forge the unity between the working class theoreticians and the revolutionary petty bourgeois intellectuals. Our vanguard workers must be trained to be “on the same level in regard to party activity as the revolutionaries from amongst the intellectuals.” (What Is To Be Done?, p.l6l) This requires training in the science of Marxism-Leninism, the spirit of criticism and self-criticism, the ability to distinguish the class interests of the proletariat from all other interests, and the exposure of opportunism through open polemics. The principal tool in carrying out this activity will be an organ focused on the level of the advanced workers, that will appear regularly on a nation-wide scale, something that has not yet been done. Our views on the road to establishing an Iskra-type newspaper, building the vanguard party, and our present tasks are elaborated upon in the editorial statement of the first issue of the “Red Dawn.”

There are at present numerous papers of various groups, OL’s “The Call” in particular, that have been presented as the Iskra-type organ. Particularly over the past two years “The Call” has been shown to us as an example to follow, with major campaigns to build it. Since May, 1976, OL has been successful in getting “The Call” out weekly.

We agree with the importance of having the organ we are striving to build coming out weekly, which represent a tremendous breakthrough for Marxist-Leninists in the U.S., given especially the primitive and amateurish character of the Marxist-Leninist movement. On this we have no quarrel with the OL. What we oppose, however, is their con job of trying to pass off “The Call” as an Iskra-type organ.

As we shall show, “The Call” is not aimed at the level of the advanced workers. In fact, OL would never even take a stand on this question, and evaded for years the debate in the communist movement over who and what were the characteristics of the advanced workers.

Only in the past two years have they attempted to define who their “advanced” workers are. In a major sum up in the centerfold article of the February 14, 1977 “Call,” speaking about winning the advanced workers to communism and the party, they tell us in an aside included in parentheses their definition of the advanced; “those workers who respond most rapidly to Marxism-Leninism and are the most active and dedicated to the cause of the proletariat.” This definition is important because the understanding of who are the advanced determines who the paper is directed at and its overall content.

Lenin held a different view of the advanced workers. In “A Retrograde Trend” he wrote:

The history of the working-class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among those come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the labouring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement premises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect. At a time when educated society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among the workers, real heroes are coming to the fore from amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labour, possess so much character and willpower that they study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats – ’the working class intelligentsia’. (CW, Vol. 4, p.280-281)

There are those, like OL, RCP, and WVO, who state that the U.S. is an exception to Lenin’s description of ”the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore.” But even a brief examination of the history of the communist and workers movements in the U.S. shows the bankruptcy of these American exceptionalist views.

The U.S. working-class movement developed somewhat later than those in Europe because of the later development of capitalism in this country. Marx wrote to Weydemeyer in 1852:

That bourgeois society in the United States has not yet developed far enough to make the class struggle obvious and comprehensible is most strikingly proved by H.C. Carey (of Philadelphia), the only American economist of importance... All he proves, of course, is that he takes the “undeveloped” social conditions of the United States to be “normal” social conditions.[1] (Letters to Americans, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, p. 44)

While there were organisations of workers in this country very early, a revolutionary workers movement hadn’t yet developed.

By 1887 this had changed. In the first English edition of The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Engels included an introduction of the U.S. working-class movement which, he said, had just “burst out with such irresistible force” and “spread with the rapidity of a prairie fire.” He wrote about the great events of 1886, leading to and following the Haymarket[2]:

The spontaneous, instinctive movements of these vast masses of working people, over a vast extent of country, the simultaneous outburst, of their common discontent with a miserable social ...condition, the same everywhere and due to the same causes, made them conscious of the fact, that they formed a new and distinct class of American society: a class of – practically speaking – more or less hereditary wage-workers, proletarians. And-with true American instinct this consciousness led them at once to take the next step towards their deliverance: the formation of a political workingmen’s party, with a platform of its own, and with the conquest of the Capitol and the White House for its goal. In May the struggle for the eight hours’ working day, the troubles in Chicago, Milwaukee, etc., the attempts of the, ruling class to crush the nascent uprising of labor by brute force and brutal class justice; in November the new Labor Party organized in all great centers, and the New York, Chicago and Milwaukee elections[3]. May and November have hitherto reminded the American bourgeoisie only of the payment of coupons of U.S. bonds; henceforth May and November will remind them too, of the dates on which the American working class presented their coupons for payment. (Letters to Americans, p. 286)

In fact, since then, the First of May has been the holiday of the international working class. The conditions of capitalism led the American workers to organize to organize to take power, although, as Engels pointed out they were “yet far from agreed upon what to do with that power when once attained.” (p. 287) The leaders of this movement were the advanced workers of the day.

Several names come immediately to mind when we think of the advanced workers of the half-century after Haymarket. Eugene V. Debs, of Terre Haute, Indiana, was a railroad fireman at the age of 16. From the time he joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen at 19, he devoted his life to the working class. In 1893, he organized the American Railway Union, the first industrial union of railroad workers, to replace the weak system of brotherhoods of engineers, switchmen, brakemen, and firemen. A year later, when the workers of the company town of Pullman, Illinois went on strike, he led 120,000 railroad workers in boycotting Pullman cars and striking the railroads who insisted on supporting Pullman. While doing six months in Woodstock Prison for this strike, he read Marx’s Capital. He was a key figure in organizing the Socialist Party, and received a million votes for president while serving time in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, convicted of opposing the imperialist First World War, Debs said, “I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war for the socialist revolution.”

Another giant of the time was Big Bill Haywood. Starting work at 11, he went into the mines of Nevada at 15. When the Western Federation of Miners came to Silver City, Idaho, where he was working, he joined and organized the whole camp. Big Bill led the miners of the Rockies as they shot it out with the troops and company hoods. The employers kidnapped him from Denver to Boise, Idaho and tried to frame him for murdering the former governor, but tens of thousands of workers around the country demanded his release, and he was acquitted. Haywood became leader of the militant IWW, and was also on the executive board of the Socialist Party until he was expelled for advocating direct action of the working class while the party insisted on electoral tactics only. He was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct the imperialist war and died in exile in the Soviet Union.

William Z. Foster worked in virtually every industry and in most of the country after starting at 10 in Massachusetts. He was imprisoned in Spokane during an IWW free-speech campaign. He organized the packing industry and led the steel strike of 1919. Foster became the leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

Bill Dunne joined the union movement at 16. He was an electrician and an officer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He edited the Butte Daily Bulletin when that job required a 30-30 rifle as well as a typewriter: his office and machinery was destroyed by the U.S. Army, and he was threatened by the lynchers who hung IWW leader Frank Little. He was elected to the Montana state legislature on the slogan, “All Power to the Workers and Farmers.” A founding member of the Communist Party, he courageously defied the red-baiting of Gompers and the other bureaucrats at the 1923 AFL convention. He was expelled from the CP in 1946 because he opposed rebuilding the party on a revisionist basis after the removal of Browder.

These four are merely outstanding examples of the many advanced workers of their time. In our day we have also seen such advanced workers. In the Black Panther Party were proletarian elements such as Fred Hampton, murdered by the FBI and Chicago police at 21. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, S1TCC, and the Young Lords also contained such worker revolutionaries, respected-by their fellow workers and dedicated to freeing the working class. They read whatever revolutionary literature they could get their hands on, whether Franz Fanon, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkruraah, Mao Tsetung or Karl Marx. Many of them are still active, today, and more will continue to come forward.

Objections could be raised to some of the people mentioned here. Although Debs called himself a Bolshevik, he never broke with the opportunists of the Socialist Party. Foster vacillated in the struggle against Browder and defended peaceful transition to socialism. Many were not Marxist-Leninists. But it is also true that Weitling and Proudhon, whom Lenin mentions, were opponents of Marx and Marxism. The advanced workers must be won to Marxism-Leninism.

When Engels described the rapid advances of the U.S. working-class movement in 1887, he also said that they had not yet united on a proletarian program:

That the laboring masses should feel their community of grievances and of interests, their solidarity as a class in opposition to all other classes; that in order to give expression and effect to this feeling, they should set in motion the political machinery provided for that purpose in every free country – that is the first step only. The next step is to find the common remedy for these common grievances, and to embody it in the platform of the new Labor Party. And this – the most important and the most difficult step in the movement – has yet to be taken in America. (Letters to Americans, p.287)

Marxism-Leninism provides the groundwork for that platform. There can be no fusion between the workers’ movement and the socialist movement except on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. Lenin discussed this in 1899:

The separation of the working-class movement and socialism gave rise to weakness and underdevelopment in each: the theories of the socialists, unfused with the workers’ struggle, remained nothing more than Utopias, good wishes that had no effect on real life; the working-class movement remained petty, fragmented, and did not acquire political significance, was not enlightened by the advanced science of its time. For this reason we see in all European countries a constantly growing urge to fuse socialism with the working-class movement in a single Social-Democratic movement. When this fusion takes place the class struggle of the workers becomes the conscious struggle of the proletariat to emancipate itself from exploitation by the propertied classes, it is evolved into a higher form of the socialist movement – the independent working-class Social-Democratic party. By directing socialism towards a fusion with the working-class movement, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did their greatest service: they created a revolutionary theory that explained the necessity for this fusion and gave socialists the task of organizing the class struggle of the proletariat. (“A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy,” Collected Works, Vol. 4, p. 257)

In the U.S., too, there were various Utopian socialists in the early part of the 19th century. Marxism was first brought here by political refugees from the German revolution of 1848. They had much to offer the U.S. working class, in terms of experience and theory, but their sectarian attitude prevented any fusion with the American workers. They demonstrated how the opportunism of the socialists retards this fusion and the birth of a fully conscious proletarian party. In 1893, Engels commented on this in a letter to his friend Friedrich Sorge in Hoboken:

The German socialists in America are an annoying business. The people you get over there from Germany are usually not the best – they stay here – and in any event they are not at all a fair sample of the German party. And as is the case everywhere, each new arrival feels himself called upon to turn everything he finds upside down, turning it into something new, so that a new epoch may date from himself. Moreover, most of these greenhorns remain stuck in New York for a longtime or for life, continually reinforced by new additions and relieved of the necessity of learning the language of the country or of getting to know American conditions properly. (Letters to Americans, p. 257-8)

Earlier, in 1886, he was just as sharp:

The Germans have not understood how to use their theory as a lever which could set the American masses in motion; they do not understand the theory themselves for the most part and treat it in a doctrinaire and dogmatic way as something that has to be learned by heart, which then will satisfy all requirements forthwith. To them it is a credo and not a guide to action. What is more, they learn no English on principle. (Letters to Americans, p. 162-3)

It should be obvious that the same results can be obtained from the economist practice of tailing the spontaneous movement of the workers. Belittling and watering down Marxist-Leninist theory, refusing to do propaganda on topical events, this is also making theory a dogma and not a guide to action. Right opportunism also is an obstacle to fusion of socialism with the workers’ movement. For, besides Marxist-Leninist theory.

So, while at other times there may have been a greater degree of fusion, today Marxism does not have the influence in the working class that it did in the heyday of the Socialist Party or the Communist Party. Marxism-Leninism is not something brand new to the American workers. There are still those around who were members of the CP. Literature is available in the bookstores. The People’s Republic of China has popularized socialism. The communist movement of the 70’s has had some influence. But the revisionism of the CPUSA has been responsible for the largely trade-union character of the contemporary worker’s movement. And until our movement breaks decisively with revisionism, we will make little progress toward fusion.

The advanced workers demand nothing less of us than real education in Marxism-Leninism. . .That is why Lenin said that the newspaper must be aimed at the level of the advanced:

...This ’working-class intelligentsia’ already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met1 and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party come from its ranks. The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social-Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary, it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical, political, and theoretical problems of world Social-Democracy. Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met, and it itself will take the cause of the Russian workers and, consequently, the cause of the Russian revolution, into its own hand’s. (“A Retrograde Trend,” CW, Vol. 4, p.281)

This training will be complete if it includes not only propaganda and agitation, but also the theoretical work needed to guide the building of the party and develop a party program.

Again, we emphasize precisely defining the advanced workers and fulfilling our tasks in relation to them – this is absolutely necessary if we are to fulfill our “first historical task” of winning the vanguard of the proletariat to communism. All attempts to artificially broaden its definition will lead not only to tailing the advanced, but, as we shall show, to an inability to raise up the lower levels into its ranks.

OL liquidates the existence of advanced workers by including in their definition, among others, the more numerous broad stratum of the working class which Lenin referred to in Russia as average. He stated that:

...After the numerically small stratum of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average workers. These workers, too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers’ study circles, and socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation, and differ from the preceding stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent loaders of the Social-Democratic working-class movement. (“A Retrograde Trend, CW, Vol. 4, p.281)

In the U.S., however, we refer to this stratum as intermediate. This is because most workers today are not for socialism, but are actually relatively ideologically and politically backward. Nevertheless, this intermediate stratum does indeed exist.

As for the newspaper, Lenin said:

...The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. (Ibid)

Even though this stratum will in fact be the majority of the readers of the newspaper, and these workers will often be mainly involved in local and immediate practical work, we must not hold back their development by tailing them, as the economists do.

Finally comes the lower stratum of the proletariat. As we said, in the U.S., this constitutes the majority of the workers. But it is not the fault of these workers that they are ideologically and politically backward. It is no shame that they have not done the impossible and spontaneously overcome their acceptance of bourgeois ideology. Most can be won over to socialism, and many are open to it right now. Only a minority are hard-core backward elements, fascists, labor aristocrats. But the blame for their backward state rests with those rotten petty-bourgeois intellectuals In our movement, those opportunists who have not carried out the necessary theoretical and practical work to raise their level. For years they have not challenged bourgeois ideology, but have instead accepted it themselves and attempted to adapt Marxism-Leninism to it. They try to follow the path of least resistance. To them, the relatively low level of fusion in the U.S. between scientific socialism and the working class leads them to create one justification after another – “there’s too much anti-communism,” “we can’t isolate ourselves from the masses,” etc., etc. – to tail the consciousness of this stratum. They do everything in their power to keep Marxism-Leninism away from the workers. They continue to refuse to raise the level of the advanced workers and develop Marxist-Leninist theoreticians from the advanced and other strata.

But for Marxist-Leninists, this situation leads us to precisely the opposite conclusion. The low level of fusion means that we must do more propaganda and agitation, more theoretical work, and do it better. Further, it means that we must put more attention on winning over the advanced workers and building the party if we ever hope to win over this stratum. As Lenin said:

....whoever forgets the necessity of organising the working class movement into the struggle of a political party, will aside from everything else, deprive himself of even an opportunity of successfully and steadily attracting the lower strata of the proletariat to the working-class cause. (Ibid, p. 283)

The alternative is that the imperialists will win these workers over to reaction and fascism.

Of course, our approach to this stratum is different than our approach to the advanced. Lenin pointed out:

...It is quite possible that a socialist newspaper will be completely or well-nigh incomprehensible to them (even in Western Europe the number of Social-Democratic voters is much larger than the number of readers of Social-Democratic newspapers), but it would be absurd to conclude from this that the newspaper of the Social-Democrats should adapt itself to the lowest possible level of the workers. The only thing that follows from this is that different forms of agitation and propaganda must be brought to bear on these strata – pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly – leaflets on local events. The Social-Democrats should not confine themselves even to this; it quite possible that the first steps towards arousing the consciousness of the lower strata of the workers will have to take the form of legal educational activities. (Ibid, p.282)

Notice how Lenin distinguishes between the party’s newspaper and these other pamphlets, talks, and local leaflets. This sort of agitation, this special literature, is thus different from the kind of agitation included in the party’s paper, which Is written at the level of the advanced. This also means that in this period of concentrating on the winning over the vanguard, work among this lower stratum is secondary and can only be successfully accomplished after the vanguard has been won over.

From this examination of the strata of the proletariat, their relations and the significance of our work among them, we see that OL has completely distorted these questions. Through their incorrect and unscientific “definition” of advanced workers, they have lowered the Ideological level necessary to be an advanced worker. In fact, they have not only wiped out the existence of the advanced workers, the working class intelligentsia, and even the intermediate workers (whom they never even bother to mention), but with the stroke of a pen they have converted a wide section of the lower strata of the proletariat into “advanced” workers. For OL, instead of advanced workers having to “study, study study,” all they need do is “practice practice, practice.” In essence, the only workers they see fitting Lenin’s definition of advanced are those few already in OL, and none more. They thus can aim their literature at a lower level than the real advanced workers while claiming to actually aim it at their version of the “advanced” workers. Their “theories” actually hold back the training of advanced workers, sabotage the fulfilling of our first historical task of winning them to communism ideologically, and make it impossible to promote the lower strata up into the advanced.

Needless to say, OL’s opportunist line has been extremely harmful to the struggle for a party. Only by drawing lines of demarcation between ourselves and these right opportunists, and in overcoming their deviations, will our party be brought into existence. The pre-conditions for thin will require greater theoretical work on our part, the expansion of our propaganda and agitation, and the elimination of our primitive, amateurish ways through the most ruthless struggle against opportunism. Since OL and others have spread much confusion on these points, we must expose point by point the major “arguments” they have raised regarding our tasks in relation to the advanced workers.

OL’s organ is still aimed at the level of the broad masses rather than that of the advanced. They have a covered-over version of the same line as WVO and most of the opportunists which says that In the U.S. there aren’t any advanced workers as Lenin described in his time. They might try to deny this with all their sophistry, but their practice bears it out. They won’t openly put their real views forward for fear that it would too easily expose them further. One of their methods of hiding their views was the use of a proxy, the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity (LMLU), in a couple of articles in their journal “Class Struggle,” issues #4-5 and 7. LMLU was one of the groups in OL’s Organizing Committee that formed the CPC-ML.

In the introduction to the first of these articles in “Class Struggle” #4-5, OL states no differences or reservations with the article’s contents, only that “it addresses a number of important questions for the party-building movement today.” (p.54) Other than an invitation to their “readers to participate in the debate over these questions,” they give the impression that a general agreement exists, especially since the article is accorded extensive space without comment. The first few pages are spent summarising with extensive quotations the experience of the Bolshevik Party in its formation. They reprint Lenin’s description of the levels of the proletariat from “A Retrograde Trend.” After finishing the quotation, they proceed “to clarify Lenin’s point.” (p.60) We, however, have always felt it quite clear already!

They explain that, “the term ’advanced worker,’ as Lenin used it, referred to workers who were already “among the ranks of Russian Social-Democracy.” Consequently, the only advanced workers in the U.S. are those few in the existing Marxist-Leninist organizations. Naturally, if the advanced workers are, by definition, already members of the communist organizations, then it stands to reason that, “...the main task was not to win advanced workers to communism, but to constantly reinforce and increase the number of the advanced workers.” (p.65) They then come up with their own “creative” line: “Thus the question is not one of winning these advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism. The question is one of winning the best elements of the proletariat and raising them to the level of the advanced workers.” (Ibid)

It is not our purpose here to bicker over every question of formulation. But we must wonder: Why does the LMLU put the phrase “best elements” in contrast to the “advanced,” “average,” and ̶mass” which they have just discussed at length? First, it seems they want to eliminate the need for propaganda. They go on to say that propaganda is on the level of the advanced and teaches Marxism-Leninism, but since the advanced are already Marxist-Leninists, it seems this literature must be of only secondary importance. They reconcile themselves with Lenin and Stalin after this by saying: “Propaganda is chief, the party is an organ of mass agitation.” As clear as the muddy Mississippi.

There is more to this. LMLU confuses the existence of advanced workers which “every working class movement brings to the fore” with the process of winning them to scientific socialism. This process was well along in Russia in 1897. It has had to be re-initiated in this country. But there are advanced workers in the U.S. Mast of them have yet to be won to scientific socialism which cannot develop spontaneously in the sphere of the struggles between the bosses and the workers. They are more than potentials recruits – they are the future leaders of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist party. LMLU’s covert negation of propaganda deprives us not just of some supporters, but of our leaders.

In the #7 issue of “Class Struggle,” there is an article by LMLU professing to be a self-criticism of their previous article. In it they have stripped away some of their earlier cover on advanced workers by admitting that they see their “best elements” as the advanced, that there are no advanced workers in the U.S. who fulfill Lenin’s definition, and that there are only intermediate workers. Here they charge what little difference they had with the OL on this. What in fact we have here is the expression out in the open of our representatives of the retrograde trend in the U.S. They believe that the emergence of the advanced workers was dependent upon them, thus negating the materialist view that the contradictions of capitalism bring such fighters to the fore.

The focus on the advanced workers and propaganda does not liquidate in any way our work with the other strata. Nevertheless, our differences with the OL and co. is not one of mere formulation. The chorus coming out of the OL and its friends such as the LMLU for many years says that to raise propaganda as chief is to separate it from and forget agitation and the struggles of the masses. All this is raised in that same February 14, 1977 “Call” and the #7 issue of “Class Struggle.” In this February 14, 1977 “Call”, OL falsifies Stalin by saying that when Stalin said propaganda was the chief form of activity in the Iskra period, he really meant both agitation and propaganda.[4] phey then substitute for Lenin and Stalin their formulation that “revolutionary education of the masses, especially the advanced” is our chief form of work. This is a thin cloak of their economism.

OL has been a leader in coming up with such lines that sound somewhat like Lenin or Stalin but actually rip out their revolutionary heart. After evading the question of propaganda for several years, they recently have begun to address it in the vaguest of terms, using classical doubletalk. They make their attitude in the #3 issue of “Class Struggle” in a speech by OL Chairman Kike Klonsky entitled “On Building the Weekly Call.” He states, “We believe that both agitation and propaganda articles must be combined in a communist newspaper.” With this we agree. The problem, though, is that saying, “both agitation and propaganda” does not clarify what the requirements of the movement at this time call for in such a paper. Later he gives us at what level such a paper will be written in their eyes. He ridicules “those dogmatists and sectarians whose newspapers are only directed at a few – the ’advanced of the advanced’ – while forgetting that the communist press also has an important role in bringing revolutionary agitation to the broad masses.” (p.11)

Here Klonsky tries the old shell game. He attacks as ultra-left the line of “advanced of the advanced,” which was put forward by the CL. But then he equates it with those “whose newspapers are only directed at a few.” Now, the idea of a newspaper directed “at a few” was not at all the invention of CL or even what was wrong with their line. On this question, CL’s error was to aim their activity at only some of the advanced, and not the advanced workers as a whole. Hence, the erroneous slogan of “advanced of the advanced.” It should also be noted that after CL declared itself a party and announced that party-building had been completed, they reversed their “left” line and took up an openly rightist line that the forms should now be on the “practical workers.” But Klonsky’s comments are not directed at any of this, especially their later line which in all essentials is the same as the CL’s. Clearly Klonsky’s comments are directed at Lenin himself and Leninism as a science. It was Lenin in What Is To Be Done? who said that propaganda “will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons.” (p.82} By confusing the opportunist mish-mash of CL and the great teachings of Lenin, Klonsky wants to play on the ignorance and distortions of the real history of the U.S. communist movement and the teachings of Lenin In order to justify OL’s economist line.

Further, to make clearer OL’s opportunist news, let us look at more of the words of Mr. Klonsky:

One of the signs of opportunism in this period is the inability of certain groups to develop a Marxist-Leninist newspaper and build organization around that paper among the working masses. The Guardian shows its opportunist line on this point. After 26 years of publishing, it has built no organization among the masses and confines itself only to agitational and propagandist roles while neglecting the communist task of collective organization which the people need so badly. In effect, this leaves the organization of the masses to the revisionists or the labor aristocracy. (p.12)

This is simply amazing! The Guardian “confines itself only to agitational and propagandist roles.”? The Guardian never has done propaganda or agitation, with the exception of a few reprints and an occasional column, usually from outside of the Guardian. It is true that they have distributed some pamphlets and a few of the classics of Marxism-Leninism. For a short period they sponsored a series of forums (in 1973). But most of their articles are in the tradition of liberal bourgeois journalism. They mainly print reports and collections of events such as strikes, demonstrations, etc. By focusing their criticism of the Guardian on its lack of organizing, Klonsky makes much clearer for us OL’s views on “The Call.” They’ve patterned it after the Guardian, except that “The Call” is used to organizationally to build the OL and its influence. Their viewss on propaganda and agitation in a newspaper arc actually the same as The Guardian’s. The OL had a “better Idea,” they built a better Guardian, “The Call,” with an organisation, the OL!

In case we’ve left any doubt about the focus of “The Call”, let us give another example. In this same issue of “Class Struggle,” they reprint an article from the Communist International in 1925-26, entitled “Bolshevisation of the Press.” (p.6l) The article is very good and interesting. Unfortunately for the OL, this article was directed to the mass Communist Parties of that time, when the main form of activity was loading the masses in revolutionary actions in preparation for the seizure of state power. In their introduction to this article, OL tells us, “The experience of communist in that period has many rich lessons for those of us today fighting the influence of modern revisionism and attempting to build a new communist party with a new communist press.” (p.6l) Now, while there are lessons that we can draw from this article, and we shall not belittle them, in the main, the article isn’t timely for our movement, which has yet to win the advanced workers to communism and build the party. The parties spoken about in this article, such as the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), had membership strength of 200,000, and their press a readership of 300,000. They were developed sufficiently in their influence so that their approximate voter strength was 2,000,000 (p. 63). Although these parties still had much to do in the way of bolshevlzing their ranks, their level of development then far exceeds our own. The OL must have been intoxicated by these statistics, and been driven green with envy. Now, if the content of their paper was on the level of the advanced, the immediate results might not be as fruitful in drawing large crowds or the greatest numbers. But when the preliminary work has been consistently carried out, we too will not only attract such large numbers, but will mobilise them on a strictly revolutionary basis.

In a speech at OL’s second national Call Conference In April, 1977, reprinted in the Spring, 1977 “Class Struggle,” issue #7, “Call” editor Dan Burstein also unashamedly reveals OL’s economism. In bragging about “The Call,” Burstein says:

We must raise their political level, and better systematize our agitation and propaganda nationally. But the fact is that the material for our newspaper comes from the masses . It speaks their language, and reflects the very best of the class struggle through which all the work of building our party has been carried out. Together with its Marxist-Leninist line, this is a hallmark of our newspaper that distinguishes us from all other trends. (p.104, emphasis original)

We agree, Mr. Editor, that because your paper “comes from the masses” OL is indeed distinguished as a trend, or at least part of one – but not in the way you think! Compare this with what Stalin had to say on the relation of leaders and the masses:

What interests us now is how separate ideas are worked up into a system of ideas (the theory of socialism), how separate ideas, and hints of ideas, link up into one harmonious system – the theory of socialism, and who works and links them up. Do the masses give their leaders a program and the principles underlying the program, or do the leaders give these to the masses? If the masses themselves and their spontaneous movement give us the theory of socialism, then there is no need to take the trouble to safeguard the masses from the pernicious influence of revisionism, terrorism, Zubatovism and anarchism: ’the spontaneous movement engenders socialism from itself.’ If the spontaneous movement does not engender the theory of socialism from itself (don’t forget that Lenin is discussing the theory of socialism), then the latter is engendered outside of the spontaneous movement, from the observations and study of the spontaneous movement by men who are equipped with up-to-date knowledge. Hence, the theory of socialism is worked out ’quite independently of the growth of the spontaneous movement,’ in spite of that movement in fact, and is then introduced into that movement from the outside, correcting it in conformity with its content, i.e., in conformity with the objective requirements of the proletarian class struggle. (Works, Vol. 1, p.56-57)

It should thus not be difficult to figure out why Burstein did not say that “The Call’s” articles come from the leaders of the masses, since the OL is not concerned with revolutionary leaders. Their dragging at the tail of the consciousness of the masses and bourgeois ideology have clearly distinguished them as one of the most unshakeable leaders of the right opportunist, economist trend.

But since Mr. Burstein is not finished with his opportunism, we are not finished with him. He goes on to try to sound Leninist in his presentation of the tasks of propaganda and agitation. But listen to this:

Marxist-Leninists participating in the class struggle have brought hundreds, perhaps thousands of advanced workers to the doorstep of joining the party. These are the actual conditions facing us. Now we must bring these workers in on a firm ideological basis. Now we must bring about a qualitative leap – from activist class fighter to party member – by consolidating these gains. Propaganda plays a decisive role in doing this, Just as agitational and organizational activity often played the key role in bringing forward these workers and developing their political consciousness in the initial stages of our work with them. (p.107)

Again we get the equation of the advanced worker and the “activist class fighter.” Active elements can come from either the advanced, intermediate or lower strata. What we particularly look for today is their ideological level, and not just how “militant” they are. Confusing advanced and active workers inevitably takes attention away from correctly working among the genuinely advanced. Again we get here the old economist argument that the economic struggle is the chief and widest means to attract the workers. And again we get the confession that OL’s main activity is mass work. But notice also how, slipped into this statement is the old “theory of stages.” Propaganda is “decisive,” but never the chief form of activity, while agitation and “organizational activity,” whatever that is, brought forward these workers “in the initial stages of our work with them.” First the economic struggle, then comes politics. This again shows that OL is so theoretically bankrupt, so ideologically poverty-stricken, that they cannot even come up with new arguments to justify their economism, but must borrow almost word for word and resort to precisely the same theories as the economist of Lenin’s day.

Burstein’s article is also revealing in his “criticism” of the RCP. He berates “the ’two newspapers’ approach of the RCP – propaganda for the intellectuals and agitation for the workers.” (p.107) So the problem with RCP is not their content, but their form. Presumably, all would be o.k. between these two right opportunist “parties” if the RCP simply combined both their economist papers into one big economist paper, or if they sold more copies of “Revolution” to the workers, since, according to OL, “Revolution” is supposedly a propaganda organ. But “Revolution” is really just a longer version of “The Call,” cluttered with strike articles and long reports modeled after the “straight reporting” approach of the bourgeois press. This kind of “disagreement” is the perfect kind of bargaining chip for the hacks and bureaucrats like Klonsky and Burstein now that the OL is openly wooing a section of the RCP involved in its recent split and attempting to negotiate a back-room merger.

The OL has never consistently done propaganda or agitation in the pages of “The Call.” An excellent opportunity to do either was in the November 7, 1977 issue of “The Call.” On page 7 they ran a picture of two young people plunging to the ground from a fire escape that had collapsed. The picture itself captures this most brutal example of the results of one aspect of capitalism, particularly for the oppressed nationalities. The article next to the picture focuses on the recently revealed scandal about an arson ring in Boston which was burning down buildings and housing in order to collect insurance claims. This story was highlighted in the national as well as local bourgeois press. This sort of thing is nothing new and is occurring constantly. The article in “The Call,” however, does not perform any real service. They talk a little about wealthy landlords, financiers, high ranking police, and five department officials, and at the end of the article, they tack on the sentence, “And as long as capitalism exists, profit will rule.” This is their excuse for “revolutionary education.” Other than this going through the motions of trying to make a reformist article revolutionary by adding this one sentence, there was nothing to distinguish the article from the liberal outrage you might find in some bourgeois papers. The picture is not used to highlight an agitational piece or even a more elaborate political exposure. The reader is left to wonder about the picture, or guess. There are constant examples in “The Call” of their failure to do political exposures from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint. Instead of an understanding of the effects of the current deepening crisis on housing, put in the strongest, sharpest terms, we get bourgeois reporting.

This trash is supposed to be OL’s “revolutionary education.” But you couldn’t educate anybody with this cheap stuff. In fact, it is not even agitation, since agitation is supposed to use one example to illustrate the antagonistic interests of the working class and the bourgeoisie, and not appeal to bourgeois humanism or sheer sensationalism. These exposures must be written to train workers in a working class point-of-view. Otherwise, all we end up with is liberal muckraking and reformism. Instead of their paper being a collective propagandist, agitator and organizer, “The Call” ends up being merely a collection of local economist leaflets.

On the less developed strata, its needs can be met by the use of “popular literature for the workers, and especially popular (But, of course, not vulgar) literature for the especially backward workers.” (What Is To Be Done?, p.161) But the OL models “The Call” in just such a vulgar style, where a few words, phrases and sentences about the party, socialism, revolution, etc., are added to pass it off as Marxian-Leninism. To this they add some patronising “letters to the editor” which promote some of the most backward elements around. This is not to deny that many of those who read and write for “The Call” could become Marxist-Leninists if only they could recognize and repudiate the opportunist line of the OL, now CPC-ML. But this will mean breaking with the economism so deeply imbedded in OL.

We are in no way negating the work necessary for the continual reinforcing of the ranks of the advanced from the lower levels of workers, nor do we exclusively deal only with the advanced. Propaganda need not be restricted to a few, but must focus on the level of the advanced at the same time as promoting up the lower strata. The publications and circles will attract workers from all three strata – the advanced, intermediate, as well as the lower. The newspaper must be widely distributed to all strata in order to raise their ideological level. However, the advanced will most readily be able to understand the newspaper’s ideas, and for these reasons, we place our main attention at this time on training them and setting up circles of advanced workers. While these ideas will be less understood by the intermediate and even less by the more backward workers, we by no means cater to them by lowering the content of our ideas as OL does. Further, we cannot work exclusively among the advanced workers because they do not live, work and struggle separate and apart from the other strata of the working class, but will be found among them.

In this historical period of our tasks, that of winning over the advanced workers to communism chiefly through propaganda, we do not Ignore agitation, even though it is secondary. But the character of our agitation must nevertheless by mainly political exposures, done on a nation-wide basis, and from a clear, Marxist-Leninist working class perspective. Further, we again emphasize the distinct distinction between the level of political agitation Lenin talked about in What Is To Be Done? and was included in “Iskra”, and the popular leaflets for the lower strata he also spoke of. Of these two, the popular literature is also today secondary. As for our political agitation, if, for, example, we had a regular Iskra-type newspaper published weekly or even monthly, it would be ridiculous to expect every article regularly reporting on, say, the international situation, to repeat issue after issue a detailed explanation of the features of imperialism. But these articles can be called communist agitation only if they take a Marxist-Leninist stand, and are not like the OL style of bourgeois reporting with a word or two added at the end for appearances sake. Only in this way can these articles serve to supplement the propaganda and aid in the overall training of revolutionary leaders and in the promotion of workers from other strata up into the ranks of the advanced.

It is typical of OL to accuse its opposition of being “against” agitation. But are genuine Marxist-Leninists against a regular agitational paper? No, not In general. This depends on the central task. When the central task is winning the masses to the side of the vanguard, then the paper should be mainly agitational. For example, the Bolsheviks in 1912 started publishing “Pravda,” a mass, dearly agitational paper with an average circulation of 40,000 (see History of CPSU(B), p. 149). But at that time the Bolsheviks already were the party. Further, a mass revolutionary upsurge had just begun, and such a paper was absolutely necessary at the time. But we have neither the party nor a mass revolutionary upsurge, no matter how much OL pretends we do on both these points. The question is – do we need an Iskra-type paper, or a Pravda-type paper today? How various forces answer this question in practice and not only in word is an important test by which we judge them.

Although OL is fond of attacking everyone else as dogmatists, it is characteristic of them to pull quotes out of context and without any relation to the central task at the time of the quote. For example, in the article by Klonsky in “Class Struggle #3” cited above, he pulls out a quote on p.11 on the party press from “A Talk to the Editorial Staff of the Shansi-Suiyvan Daily” by Mao. The quote talks of “translating the Party’s policy into action of the masses” and linking the party with the masses. But Klonsky does not point out that in this same article, Mao explained that they were already carrying out land reform. The article was written in 1948, a little over a year before liberation, and is found in Volume 4, page 24l of Mao’s Selected Works. None of this not even the page number, is given by Klonsky. Obviously, the central task was not the same for CPC then as it is for us now. Again Klonsky reveals that the OL really thinks that the central task is winning over the masses by appealing to this quote while covering up its real context.

OL has also pretended that our movement has already completed the transition from propaganda to agitation. They first said this in April, 1974, during the period when they openly held that ultra-“leftism” was the main danger, when they reprinted an article from the Guardian by Carl Davidson, who was soon to join the OL.

Davidson wrote, “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.” Without even blushing, over two years later in their statement “Marxist-Leninists Unite” announcing the principles of their Organizing Committee, they give us a “new” reason why right opportunism had supposedly just become the main danger. They say that:

Our movement has begun to increase its work of mass agitation – particularly in beginning to give communist leadership to the developing mass movement against the conditions of the capitalist crisis. This is a sign of our maturity and represents the process of breaking with the old, propaganda circles that initially characterized our movement. At the same time, the motion towards increased mass agitation heightens the danger of right opportunism. (“Call”, July 5, 1976, supplement, p.2)

Notice how clear is their economist conception that “communist leadership” means being the most militant trade unionists. Notice how they do not even try-to reconcile their old line from 1972 on, that agitation was key and the ultra-“left” the main danger with their view here that “increased mass agitation heightens the danger of right opportunism.” But most importantly, notice how they absolutely distort the history of our movement and pretend that the period of propaganda has been completed, that it is a thing of the past. Every time they talk of propaganda, it was something for yesterday. And every time they talk of agitation, it is something for today and tomorrow. This is what is in common between the “old” line of the Davidson article and the “new” line of the OL – we’ve finished the propaganda, so let’s get on with the agitation and the masses.

The real history of our movement speaks otherwise. In section one of this article, we showed how. OL distorted the history and origins of our movement and did not concretely analyze the relation of the revolutionary movements of the late 1960’s to the “new communist movement”, The OL’s document carries a virtual carbon copy of OL’s analysis. As regards the relation of propaganda and agitation, this distorted history covers up the actual strengths and weaknesses that have existed in our ranks the past fifteen or twenty years on this question. A strength of many of the old groups was their ability to do popular, lively, effective revolutionary agitation, and also some attempts at propaganda, that brought at least soma portion of the ideas of socialism and Marxism-Leninism to the masses. Even though groups like the Panthers, DRUM, YLP, etc., still had much non-Marxist-Leninist baggage left over (for which they could not be blamed, since this reflected the recent emergence of this new generation of untrained revolutionaries), their organs, like “The Black Panther,” the early issues of “Palante,” and others did much to begin to acquaint many people with Marxism-Leninism, socialism, and Mao’s teachings for the first time. Anyone familiar with the literature of this period or who goes back to analyze it would know that this agitation was of far superior quality to the agitation of our economists today such as the OL. Much of it was very powerful, graphic, and imbued with a staunch revolutionary spirit, unlike the sterile, weak, substanceless garbage in “The Call.” At the same time, such an analysis would also make clear that precisely the weakness of this literature was its low theoretical level and the lack of quality propaganda, along with the various erroneous lines put forward.

Now, for OL to assert that our movement has gone from propaganda to agitation covers all this up. What happened after the reign of these old groups was that, in the main, the newer groups became immersed in narrow, local work and primarily economic agitation once they began to “organize” the working class, which to them meant carrying out the trade union struggle. The necessary theoretical work and propaganda have never been done. With the exception of some attempts at propaganda for a relatively short time in papers such as “The Communist” and “Palante,” most of our movement’s newspapers have been in the economist mold of OL, RU, and the Guardian. Further, OL’s analysis can only make sense if they mean that their early work, through GCL and “The Red Worker,” and the OL with their communist leaflets, was the period of propaganda, and the “Vanguard Party” paper being the theory. But this was a period OL has repudiated, never talks about, and has condemned as ultra-“left” and sectarian. The fact remains that after the ebbing of the revolutionary movements of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the burning tasks of theoretical work and propaganda remain largely unfulfilled.

By saying that our movement went from propaganda to agitation, OL again tries to sound like Lenin while opposing Leninism. The History of the CPSU(B) talks of how Lenin led his movement from propaganda to agitation (p.16-17). But just to quote this fact is not sufficient as an analysis for our movement. For one thing, when Lenin did this, he clearly analyzed the point at which this happened, citing 1894 as the transition point between the first and second periods of their movement (see conclusion of What Is To Be Done?, p.221). OL in fact contradicts itself time and again, and without any self-criticism, on when this supposedly happened. First they talk of it in 1974, then 1976 as if it had just happened, and probably will talk of it again sometime in the future. They nowhere point out the immensity of the theoretical work of Plekhanov, Lenin and others that preceded and laid the basis for this transition, and of course can nowhere cite a similar process in our movement. Further, they fail to point out that after this transition, by 1899, Lenin fought again to turn the movement around to emphasize theoretical work and for national propaganda and agitation through “Iskra.” Finally, although they say we have gone from propaganda to agitation, they also try to make us believe that they uphold propaganda as our chief form of activity today. The significance of this inconsistency is that it is a confession of their opposition in practice to propaganda.

Another fig-leaf OL wears is their split with Martin Nicolaus. They claim that they stand for propaganda as chief and expelled Nicolaus because, among other things, he stood for agitation as chief. But an examination of the actual issues of that struggle reveals otherwise. In their journal “Class Struggle” Spring, 1977, in the speech by “Call” editor Dan Burstein mentioned above, Nicolaus line is attacked. Burstein recounts how Nicolaus had told the Call Committee in Washington, D.C., that since they had easy access to the U.S. Congress and information about the government, they should focus on these political exposures. But the Call Committee objected, to Burstein’s delight, and argued that since Washington was 80% Black and mostly working class, their articles should “focus on the political aim of the class struggle.” (p. 105) Of course, to OL, this means economic agitation tailing the spontaneous struggles. Here OL openly reveals their distaste for political exposures of the bourgeois government. They throw out the necessity for developing specialists in this field. This is absolutely necessary if we are to have political propaganda and agitation. Now, it is true that Nicolaus meant bourgeois democratic political exposure and not communist politics, which is tied to his line of unity with the liberal bourgeoisie. When we talk of political exposures, we do not mean any kind of politics, but only communist politics. But what OL counterposes to this is economic agitation. The lack of any insightful political exposures on Carter and the government in the past year is evidence enough of this. What this shows is that the only “shift” OL made was not from propaganda to agitation, but from bourgeois democratic agitation, as during the Watergate affair or when they denounced any exposure of bureaucrats like Chavez and Miller as the “crystal-ball method” of predicting their sell-outs, to mainly economic agitation. All Nicolaus wanted to do was to continue along this same path. Of course, both lines leave political struggle to the liberals, since Nicolaus almost openly said this, while OL’s ignoring of politics means this in practice. And all OL’s new “militancy” as regards the bureaucrats showed was that they had become even “better” trade unionists than before. Economic struggle for the workers and political struggle for the liberals – this is the “Credo” for both OL and Nicolaus. The struggle between the two actually represented a split between the bourgeois intellects sand the economist “militants,” in some ways comparable to the differences in Russia between the “legal Marxist” Struve and the economists.

The acid test of OL’s attitude to propaganda is, of course, their practice, OL has had the nerve to assert that they follow Leninist norms in putting out their paper. But if we compare “The Call” to Lenin’s writings in “Iskra” we will only see how far they deviate from the method and practice of Leninism. For example, Lenin’s article “The Chinese War,” in the first issue of “Iskra,” shows how the Tsar’s aggressive war in China and colonialism in general are tied to the system of capitalism. It exposes the political and economic features of their campaign to justify the war, and explains what the attitude of various classes, especially the proletariat, should be to this war. Or take “The Lessons of the Crisis” in Iskra #7 in August 1901. Here Lenin shows how the economic crisis at that time was a direct result of the contradiction under capitalism between the social character of production versus the private ownership of the means of production and private appropriation of the results of production. He scientifically concludes that the workers must go beyond the struggle for minimum concessions, and must struggle for socialism itself. And thumbing through Lenin’s other writings in “Iskra,” including polemics and theoretical articles on the tasks of the movement like “Where To Begin” and “The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement,” one could find many other examples of effective exposures and propaganda.

But anyone familiar with “The Call” knows that this is not at all the kind of exposure they pattern themselves after. They do not explain the crisis of over-production, the nature of imperialism, the general crisis of capitalism, why socialism is inevitable and necessary, or any other basic question. Some of these questions have never even been addressed in all the years that “The Call” has been published. Their excuse that this will “isolate” them from the masses is ridiculous. We just hope that if we follow the path laid cut by Lenin that we will likewise be as “isolated” from the masses as the Bolsheviks were!

To cater to the lower strata of the proletariat, OL generally ignores propaganda. On those rare occasions when they attempt it, its contents are all wrong and anti-Marxist. They pursue a bureaucratic approach to their so-called “revolutionary education” – take our word for it, capitalism is bad and socialism is good. OL not only thinks that the advanced and all other workers cannot understand Marxism-Leninism, but they themselves do not understand it. What theoretical understanding they do have they keep to themselves, while spreading confusion to the proletariat. This economism, so prevalent in our movement, actually cripples our ability to train the advanced workers and destroys our movement from within. While OL’s charade of putting out a weekly newspaper may impress the naive, their all-round opportunism in reality renders a great service to the bourgeoisie.

We thus make no apologies for spending so much time denouncing OL as economist, opportunist and tailist. We are not running off at the mouth, but are trying to eradicate the ideological influence of economism in our ranks. This is especially important since a number of forces that previously developed in the struggle against the right opportunism of both au and OL, namely, ATM and MLOC, have recently reversed their stand on making propaganda the chief form of activity, and now lowered the level of their papers to mass agitation. Further, they have declared views on propaganda such as ours as “ultra-left,” “Trotskyite,” “textualism,” and so forth, and even expelled from their organizations some unnamed forces who presumably held such views, although the vagueness of the polemics against them makes even this unclear. The running away from propaganda, the placing of main attention on “left” errors, and the resorting to obscure name-calling rather than clear, open polemics signals a setback for our movement. It represents a capitulation to the line of OL and co. These groups, in fact, seem to be imitating the methods of OL. This setback is also seen in the degeneration of the Workers Congress and the inability of any, other forces to launch or even lay the basis for an Iskra-type newspaper and develop a strong Leninist trend.

For these reasons, we are forced to retrace our steps somewhat. We must go over again and again principles supposedly raised by BWC and PRRWO in the struggle against RU but so quickly abandoned, principles supposedly raised by the WC but again so quickly abandoned, and fight to resurrect them as our guiding principles. We must resist every temptation to adapt ourselves to the economism of the likes of OL, as so many others have done, and instead hold high the revolutionary banner of Lenin’s teachings on party-building. We must oppose all attempts at blurring the two historical steps of our tasks, winning the vanguard of the proletariat to communism and winning the masses to the side of the vanguard. Only by thoroughly exposing the dominant, economist line An our movement can we show that the rightists like OL can never build a vanguard detachment of the proletariat and can never lead a revolution. Our task, then, is to lay a firm theoretical foundation for the Leninist trend so we can proceed to build an Iskra-type newspaper and a network of agents around it, win the advanced workers to communism, develop a party program and call a party congress.


[1] Henry Charles Carey attacked Ricardo, Malthus, Mill, and all the classical economist of Europe for seeing a natural growth of antagonism between classes. He elaborated a theory of harmony of class interests.

[2] On May 4, 1886, Chicago police dispersed a meeting of workers in the 8-hour movement. A bomb was thrown at the police, who opened fire on the crowd, killing several and wounding two hundred.

[3] After the Haymarket, trades unions around the country organized labor parties which achieved some successes in the November elections.

[4] OL accomplishes this forgery by claiming an inaccuracy in the translation from Russian. The reprinted the quoted from Foundations of Leninism, then added parenthetically: – Editor’s note: Here the Russian phrase used by Stalin refers to propaganda in the broad sense of the propagation of revolutionary ideas, encompassing both agitation and propaganda. (The Call, 2/11/77, p. 9) The Russian word in question is in our alphabet, PROPAGANDA. It is the same word Lenin used in What Is To be Done? when he differentiated propaganda and agitation! What depths won’t OL stoop to?