Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The San Francisco Marxist-Leninist Organization

Reply to Carl Davidson

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First Published: in the pamphlet, Which Side Are You On?, by the League for Proletarian Revolution, June 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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We would like to take this opportunity to answer Carl Davidson’s slanderous attack on the movement to build a new, non-revisionist Communist Party. With his denunciation of Charles Loren’s book, The Struggle For The Party, the principle issue facing the working class movement is now out in the open. Will the working class movement have the scientific, proletarian leadership of a new, non-revisionist Communist Party or will it continue to have bourgeois leadership? Will we continue to worship spontaneity in the form of the Guardian, the October League (OL), and the Revolutionary Union (RU); will we continue to conciliate to the hideously bankrupt CPUSA? Or will the conscious communist forces put their views on the table and struggle to build a new, non-revisionist Communist Party and adopt a Party program which represents the aspirations of the working class movement?

According to Davidson’s article, forces that insist that the Party must be built by class conscious elements are violating Chairman Mao’s mass line, “from the masses to the masses”. If we were to swallow Davidson’s argument, then we would have to conclude that Chairman Mao did not understand or follow the science of Marxism-Leninism, a science which demands that class conscious Marxist-Leninists build the party, a science which resolutely opposes all those who argue that the party will “develop” spontaneously from the mass movement. If Davidson would only read What Is To Be Done?, he would see that this is true.

When we examine the quotes Davidson uses, we see that Chairman Mao is writing at a time approximately twenty years after the founding of the Communist Party of China and at a time when the Party was leading more than 100 million people to victory! If Davidson had only read the first page of the Red Book, he might have realised that the “force at the core leading our cause forward is the Chinese Communist Party”. If he had read further to the next quote, he would have seen:

Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style it is impossible to lead the broad masses, the working class and broad masses of the people, in defeating imperialism and its running dogs. (Quotations, p. 1)

How is it possible to apply Chairman Mao’s line when we have no Party to apply it? How can the core link up with the mass movement when there is no core?

If we accept Lenin’s dictum that Marxism is a “concrete analysis of concrete conditions,” then we must look at our present situation and ask “what is missing?” Is it that the working class is unwilling to fight or lacking militancy? Not at all. At the time of this writing for example, most of San Francisco is shut down by a strike of municipal employees, who in turn, are supported by bus drivers and mass transit workers. Clearly, the tide of militance has been rising in the working class for the last three and a half years. No, the U.S. working class is not now, nor has it historically been unwilling to fight. What is missing now and what has been missing for over thirty years is the class conscious core of advanced workers that Lenin refers to–an advanced detachment able to “saturate the proletariat with the consciousness of its position and its tasks.” That task is to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without the class conscious leadership of a non-revisionist party, the mass movement will continue to wander aimlessly from strike to strike unconscious of the ultimate aim of socialism and unable to get off the treadmill of economism and bourgeois ideology. The spontaneous mass movement which Davidson, the RU and OL glorify ad nauseam is a bourgeois movement. Without the leadership of a non-revisionist communist party to bring that movement under the wing of proletarian ideology, it will remain a bourgeois movement. It seems ridiculous to have to reiterate a point that Lenin and Stalin made clear over seventy years ago:

’The working class spontaneously gravitates toward socialism, but the more widespread (and continuously revived in the most diverse forms) bourgeois ideology nevertheless spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class still more.’ This is precisely why the spontaneous working class movement, while it is spontaneous, while it is not yet combined with socialist consciousness – becomes subordinated to bourgeois ideology and gravitates towards such subordination. (Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. I, p. 99)

Communists, Lenin’s phrase, must give conscious expression to what is now unconscious and therefore bourgeois.

Davidson apparently disagrees with Lenin, Stalin and Mao. He criticizes Loren for putting the leadership of the mass movement at the “bottom of the list” behind study of the Leninist classics and an exposure of revisionism. Worse, Davidson stoops to the lowest levels of demagogy by describing party-building as “another version of hippy radicalism, ’first we got to get our own heads together’.” If Davidson would only read Chairman Mao’s “On Contradiction” and apply it to the present, he would see that he is putting out a bourgeois line, pure and simple. In any contradiction, one aspect is principal and decisive and the other aspect is secondary; thus if we have a dual objective – forming a core and linking it to the mass movement–one aspect must be principal. The aspect which is principal determines the character of the thing. As we have already painstakingly pointed out, a mass movement without any Marxist-Leninist core is a mass movement led politically, ideologically, if not organizationally, by the bourgeoisie. Chairman Mao points out that only unmitigated mechanical materialists would argue that practice in the mass movement is always primary. “The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, ’Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’.” (“On Contradiction” p. 116)

So we see that the missing link is a class conscious core of advanced workers, a Marxist-Leninist party which can lead the working class and oppressed nationalities in the long and complex struggle to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. There are two lines on how to build such a party.

One line, represented by the Guardian, RU and OL, maintains that the party will “emerge” from the mass movement as it grows in size and militancy. Even though this line gives lip service to party-building, in practice it maintains that the party depends upon the further development of a militant mass movement. This line actually liquidates the task of building a new Communist Party. It condemns us to tail behind the mass movement, muttering such sophisms as, ”Where does this party come from? Like correct ideas, it does not drop from the sky. It must be forged from mass struggles.” (Guardian, April 25, 1973) The Guardian-RU-OL line would have us continue to muddle along like the person “who is flabby and shaky on questions of theory, who has a narrow outlook, who pleads the spontaneity of the masses as an excuse for his own sluggishness.” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 155)

The other line–the correct line–maintains that the new Party must be built by the most class conscious forces and based in the most oppressed and exploited sections of the working class. This line holds that the contradiction between an unconscious mass movement and a conscious vanguard changes qualitatively in the process of the coming into being, development, and increasing political influence of a vanguard communist party. It becomes a different mass movement. The point is to resolve the contradiction between the vanguard and the masses in favor of proletarian leadership. Only in this way will we be capable of leading the broad masses to socialism. As Lenin said:

The moral to be drawn is a simple one: if we begin with a solid foundation of a strong organization of revolutionaries, we can guarantee the stability of the movement as a whole and carry out the aims of both Social Democracy and of the trade unions proper. If, however, we begin with a broad workers’ organization, supposed to be the most ’accessible’ to the masses . . . we shall achieve neither one nor the other of these aims . . . (What Is To Be Done?, p. 147) The question is not one of the unwillingness to integrate with the working class as Davidson poses it. We know of no Communists(!) who are unwilling to take the ideas of scientific socialism to the proletariat. Rather the essential issue is the unwillingness of petty-bourgeois intellectuals to relinquish their freedom to dabble in the spontaneous movement and instead to join the struggle to build a new Communist Party.

Concretely, we feel that the best way to build a new Party is to expose all revisionist influences and the bourgeois misleaders of the labor movement. This means we must defeat not only all forms of Trotskyites, the influence of the labor aristocracy, but also the CPUSA, and–finally–the conciliators of revisionism, namely, the RU, OL, Guardian, and yes, yourself, Mr. Davidson.

Davidson’s essay is a concise statement of the Guardian’s tendency to rationalize right opportunism. Following the leadership of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, we believe that at any one time there can only be one central task. At present that central task is the construction of a communist party. In the early stages this is primarily a theoretical struggle. You can’t have it both ways; you can’t build the mass movement and the party at the same time. Unless you revise all of Marxism-Leninism, the party cannot “flow” out of the mass movement. The History of the CPSU(B) describes the similarities between Davidson’s essay and the Economists of Russia in these terms:

The Economists no longer dared openly to contest the need for a political party of the working class. But they considered that it should not be the guiding force of the working class movement, that it should not interfere with the spontaneous movement (our emphasis) of the working class, let alone direct it, but that it should follow in the wake of this movement, study it and draw lessons from it. (History of the CPSU(B). p.35)

Yes, Mr. Davidson, we do have to get our heads together. We have to purge ourselves of our amateurishness. We have to build a non-revisionist Communist Party which can lead the working class and oppressed nationalities to the dictatorship of the proletariat. We know, of course, that this task will take years. But we must begin now. We must begin with the advanced workers “that every working class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. IV, p . 280). We must not appeal to the masses as an excuse for our own slavishness. We must unite on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and in opposition to revisionism. Under the slogan “Marxist-Leninists Unite!”, we urge the Guardian, RU and OL to at tend the Congress to help build a new, non-revisionist Communist Party this fall.[1]

To conclude, Comrade Stalin told us a long time ago that:

Even schoolboys know that ’ideas do not drop from the skies ’. The point is, however, that we are now faced with quite a different issue . . . 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 . . . (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 outside, correcting it in conformity with its content ...

The conclusion (practical deduction) to draw from this is as follows: we must raise the proletariat to a consciousness of its true class interests, to a consciousness of the socialist ideal, and not break this ideal up into small change, or adjust it to the spontaneous movement. (Stalin, “Letter to M. Davitashvili”, Selected Works, p.45)


[1] Correction: On pg. 29 there appears the sentence: “ .. .we urge the Guardian, RU and OL to attend the Congress to help build a new, non-revisionist Communist Party this fall.” The letter to the Guardian containing this invitation was written in March 1974 before the local Continuations Committee was formed. The League for Proletarian Revolution recognizes that only the Continuations Committee has the authority to invite individuals or organizations to attend the Congress, and furthermore that thoroughly opportunist elements such as the Guardian, R.U and OL have no place at the Congress.