Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Which Side Are You On?

First Published: The Guardian, March 6, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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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.

The transition has been uneven and is far from complete. Yet every step taken toward integrating Marxism-Leninism with the struggles of the working class and oppressed nationalities is both a blow against the bourgeoisie and a concrete contribution to the building of a new communist party.

This development is particularly important in view of the fact that many cadres of today’s Marxist-Leninist organizations gained their initial political experience in the student movement of the 1960s. But what differentiated them from much of the new left was their ability to come to grips with a lesson best summed up by Mao Tsetung in his essay, “On the Orientation of the Youth Movement.”

“In the final analysis, the dividing line between revolutionary intellectuals and non-revolutionary or counter-revolutionary intellectuals is whether or not they are willing to integrate themselves with the workers and peasants and actually do so.”

The grasping of this political line is now beginning to bear fruit. It can be seen in the organization of communist and anti-imperialist groups in major industries and minority communities. It can be seen in the growing numbers of advanced workers being won to communism and recruited into Marxist-Leninist organizations. And it can be seen in the clarification of political line, in the lessons summed up from actually practicing Marxism and combating right and “left” opportunism within the arena of national and class struggle.

But these gains, these steps toward building a party, have not been won without a fight. The drag of the old student and intellectual milieu is a powerful force and its influence is far from being decisively defeated.

This force against party building has recently been expressed in two views that purport to be advocates of building an organization capable of leading the American people in the struggle for socialism. One trend wants to build a “mass party of democratic socialism” and openly attacks Leninism.

The second view comes in “left” form and is expressed most systematically in a recently published booklet, “The Struggle for the Party,” by Charles Loren. Its starting point is a polemic against the views put forward by the Revolutionary Union, the October League and the Guardian at last year’s Guardian Forum on “What Road to Building a New Communist Party?”

The three groups, in Loren’s view, make up a “leading troika of anti-party opportunism.” Their unity consists in the following:

“How to form a new and genuine communist party in the United States?. . . The reply of the opportunist wing of the movement has become more apparent. In brief, it is, ’Go to the masses.’ A party, the opportunists tell us, cannot be formed until revolutionaries go out to the masses and join them in current struggles.”

Loren states his case fairly enough. While Marxist-Leninists would also insist that their revolutionary theory and method must accompany them, all would agree that a party cannot be formed without “going to the masses.” In fact, they would point out that there is a relationship between the two, a relationship Mao Tsetung calls “the mass line”:

“In all the practical work of our party,” writes Mao, “all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the idea of the masses (scattered and unsystematic Ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.”

While Loren pays lip service to the mass line, as he does with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought in general, he actually opposes it as “premature.”

“The problems faced by the communist movement,” says Loren, “cannot be solved by going out to the labor movement. How to found a communist party, how to organize it, the meaning of democratic centralism, the question of material prerequisites, all the issues of line and program–these things cannot be settled by supporting strikes, learning an easy manner with blue-collar workers and conducting polemics with George Meany (while dickering with local piecards).

“In fact, to send out a disorganized communist movement into current labor struggles is a good recipe for increasing the confusion and bewilderment of communists.”

The “confusion and bewilderment” Loren fears over the prospect of class struggle reveals one aspect of the outlook of the intelligentsia. At the same time he reveals its arrogance: the struggle against capital amounts to “supporting strikes,” integrating with the masses amounts to “learning an easy manner,” the struggle to destroy the hegemony of the labor aristocracy amounts to “polemics with Meany,” and the effort to win over the middle forces and isolate the diehards in the united front amounts to “dickering with local piecards.”

For Loren, political line develops in stages, in isolation from the masses who might contaminate it with backwardness. “For once a large mass movement arises, the task of making a fundamental shift in line and leadership, from opportunist to Marxist-Leninist, is incomparably more difficult than if we first sharpen our ideological and organizational sword and then place it in powerful hands.”

What is this, once the “left” veneer is stripped away, if not still another version of hippy radicalism–“first we got to get our own heads together. ...”

What does Loren want the communist movement to do? The first priority is that they should study and debate theory among themselves. Second, they should set up study circles around Leninist classics which advanced workers will “gravitate to,” rather than be actively won to through the example set by communists in the mass movement. At the bottom of the list is the task of “leading” mass struggle mainly through the “most outstanding” method of education “by negative example,” In other words, communists lead by standing on the sidelines denouncing everyone from labor bureaucrats to communists as “opportunists.”

There is nothing new here. These are the same dogmatic and sectarian obstacles every revolutionary organization has had to overcome in order to move beyond its infancy. It is still alive today in obsolete form in the practice of the Socialist Labor party.

What keeps dogmatism alive is revisionism, pragmatism, tailing after spontaneity and belittling theory–through bourgeois ideology and its forces in the labor movement or right errors on the part of genuine revolutionary organizations.

But empiricism cannot be fought with dogmatism. They are two sides of the same subjective coin. One tails behind the masses, the other gesticulates angrily and in isolation from the sidelines. Both are united in opposing the mass line, in failing to unite theory with practice.

“Only by mastering the weapon of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought,” states the June 18, 1971 Peking Review, “unconditionally going deep among the worker and peasant masses for a long time, going deep into practical struggles and experiencing strenuous tempering can we achieve a relatively thorough transformation in our thinking and feelings and gradually move our stand to the side of the proletariat. When one is divorced from practical struggle and the worker and peasant masses, talking about remoulding one’s subjective world is out of the question.”