Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

The Struggle for the Party

Two Lines in the Movement

Covering Opportunism by Pointing to the Masses

For the last two or three years discussion in the communist movement in the United States has been narrowing in on two or three major questions. One of these, the one which concerns us here, is the question of how to form a new and genuine communist party in the United States. Also in this period, 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. These current struggles are of an economic or other limited, reformist character.

What will happen in this process that will advance us toward the formation of a communist party? The answer to this question reveals in turn complete confusion, as we shall later see. But the opportunists are quite sure how we must begin: we must “go out to the masses.” The opportunist points his finger toward the masses and directs your line of sight to them – and away from himself. This answer which has been emerging for several years, dominated a recent notable event in the history of this new form of opportunism, an opportunism which pretends to be anti-revisionist and is loudly pro-China. The event was the Guardian newspaper forum in Manhattan Center, New York City, on “What Road to a Communist Party?” Here the opportunists collected and distilled all their anti-party views. The speaker for the Revolutionary Union, which along with the October League and the Guardian newspaper itself makes up the leading troika of this anti-party opportunism, stated the typical view of these people on how to form a party in a number of expressions.

Where does this party come from? Like correct ideas, it does not drop from the sky. It must be built, forged from the mass struggles.

Communists, by really being part of the mass struggle and giving revolutionary leadership, must and can, find and train the people who are really the advanced workers and who are to be the core of the party.

We believe that unless we can get proletarian forces together, unless we can build mass struggles in the workers movement, we cannot build a party.

We are not pessimistic; we have profound confidence in the masses and in the bright future... (Guardian, April 25, 1973)

The position is definite: unless we become part of the mass struggle, and even more, build it if it does not exist or is not sufficiently large, we cannot build a party. Sending the communist movement out to the workers movement is a prerequisite and necessity for forming a party. This is where the party comes from, this is how it is forged, this is how its core is found and trained.

Certainly, there is one thing to be said for this advice by the opportunists: it covers up their own poverty of analysis, plans, and initiative. Marxist-Leninists urgently desire to form a communist party. Defining the task, analyzing the difficulties in carrying it out, separating the Marxist-Leninist line from the opportunist line are the needs of this first day in the life of the new party. For two or three years, communists have been asking each other, how shall we do this? Where shall we begin? What is the essential point? Now we have the concrete reply of the opportunist leaders of the Revolutionary Union, the October League, and the Guardian. What have they come up with in these two or three years? A method which is vague to the extreme, almost totally lacking in definite content! (There is, of course, a definite hidden essence of the opportunist line – but this we shall have to drag out by tooth and nail.) To solve this series of problems in the communist movement – defining the task, analyzing difficulties, demarcating the inevitable two lines – we are told to go out to the workers’ mass movement! If we were so naive as to run where the opportunists have pointed their finger, then indeed they could celebrate their successful evasion of the questions being put to them in the movement.

Who does not know that in any capitalist country there are two distinct movements, the communist movement and the labor movement? They overlap but they do not coincide. Even if the labor movement were the resource, the “raw material” to which the communist movement must go to solve its problems and achieve its goals for society, we would still need a guide to what to look for and how to extract what is needed from the labor movement. But this we are not told. We are simply told to merge ourselves into the struggles of the labor movement.

It is the goal of communists to unite these two movements. Only when this is done can the workers solve their problems, and only then can socialism become a real possibility. What was the problem here which Lenin saw?

. . .the labor movement is being torn away from socialism, the workers are being helped to carry on the economic struggle, but nothing is done to explain to them the socialist aims and the political tasks of the movement as a whole. (“The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement,” pp. 9-10. Pages refer to editions listed in the References.)

Lenin spoke of taking socialism to the workers movement; the opportunists tell us to find socialism in the workers movement.

One of the issues which the communist movement must resolve is what, if anything, we will take to the workers movement. From the history of the struggle in the Russian movement, we know that this is an early and crucial question. Lenin did not advocate answering it by saying, go to the labor movement. On the contrary, he fought the economist tendency to call this the solution; he pointed out that in practice this means taking bourgeois ideology, worship of spontaneity, and tailism to the labor movement, not socialism. And so today Marxist-Leninists are exerting every effort to organize and shape with some stability the communist movement in the United States. To do this, they are sorting out correct and incorrect ideas, the Marxist-Leninist line and the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois line, on the tasks of forming a party.

Approaching the opportunists in this work, they are met with a simple evasion: let us go out to the labor movement, and somehow everything will clear itself up. Let us confuse the communist movement and the labor movement. Let us do this in such a way as to guarantee that the spontaneous tendency toward bourgeois ideology in the labor movement, as throughout capitalist society, will submerge the proletarian line in the communist movement.

For whatever reasons, the anti-party opportunists want to operate in the labor movement. They also like to call themselves adherents of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. But actually, their plans lead them to view with horror the formation of a genuine communist party working to spread socialist ideology among the working class. Thus, they engage in labor struggles within the terms of capitalism–the sale of labor power to businessmen and the terms of this sale–but they oppose socialism, which must be consciously introduced into the labor movement, since it does not arise spontaneously out of trade union struggles.

The Revolutionary Union tells us, “Of course revolutionaries must bring communism to the workers but communist propaganda cannot be the main emphasis, the main emphasis must be class struggles.” (Guardian, April 25, 1973)

This talk of “class struggles” is a straw man built on confusion. How can the class struggle be limited to the labor movement? The phrasing of the RU speaker reveals that he thinks of class struggles as being only current economic and other reform struggles. He does not recognize the class struggle between lines of development for the communist movement. The speaker is ignoring the distinction between the communist movement and the labor movement and confining “class struggle” only to the latter. Is it not equally a class struggle between the proletarian revolutionary line and the petty-bourgeois line when polemics are issued, hot debates occur, the distribution of another group’s Marxist-Leninist literature is forbidden at RU rallies, etc.? But the speaker’s talk is to set the stage for his straw man: we cannot make communist propaganda the main emphasis. The main emphasis of what? Why, of the effort to go into the labor movement! At every turn, the speaker sees nothing but the task of resolving to go into the labor movement. The speaker sees no problems within the communist movement, no problem of what it will take into the mass struggles.

The problems faced by the communist movement 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. How are communists going to point out to the labor movement its ultimate aims and political tasks when these are not clearly understood and sharply distinguished from reformism within the movement? How is the communist movement going to protect the political and ideological independence of the labor movement when it has not even achieved this independence itself? Attempt such folly and the results will be twofold: 1) many communists will find themselves even more disoriented, confused, and demoralized, and 2) bourgeois ideology and the opportunist line will take over the communist movement, instead of the communist movement leading the labor movement onto the socialist path.

Ironically enough, this very error has recently been committed by a group whose name is anathema to the opportunists–Progressive Labor. One of the big questions in Progressive Labor was, how shall we build a base in the working class? As a question for a communist party, formed and sure of its basic line, this is an important issue. But around 1970 the question became distorted to the point of thinking that the communist party and individual communists were made, in their very essence, by being part of the labor movement. PL destroyed itself and ruined a good many potential communists, for at least a temporary period, by making this question of immediately acquiring a base a matter of the very identity of the communist movement. With a different style but basically the same idea, the opportunists of the October League, the Revolutionary Union and the Guardian are doing the same thing today.

Let this not be misunderstood. The question is not one of individual workers. Individual workers can and do enter the communist movement. Workers as well as students and intellectuals will arouse in themselves an interest in comprehending theoretically the overall nature and drift of capitalist society. They will acquire a conscious class outlook and guide their lives by it. The communist movement, especially in its early days, is composed of such persons who come forth from all parts of society. But recruitment of personnel cannot solve problems of line; we are not going to solve these problems of line by “finding and training the people who are really the advanced workers. . .” We cannot train any new recruit, worker, student or otherwise, unless we have attained some clarity on line. New communists, especially workers, expect to study; they demand to be taught the theory of Marxism-Leninism. It would only be adding to confusion, in a simple quantitative sense, to draw more persons into a fog. Yet this is the expressed policy of the opportunists!

Individuals will come forth, workers and otherwise. At this point the question is consolidating the communist movement in theory and organization--in short, the formation of a party. To advocate building mass struggles in the workers movement as the solution to this problem is simply an illogical diversion. Despite some slim links with the communist movement of the past, the communist movement in the United States is at a new beginning. And it is just then, at the beginning of the movement, that clarity is most essential.

... our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. . . . Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an ’unimportant’ error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other ’shade’. (Lenin, What Is to Be Done?, p. 117)

Shall we sharpen our outlook to the point where Marxism-Leninism is really our ideological and political weapon and then find the hands, in the mass labor movement, to wield this sword? Or shall we pick up the first stick we find and run with it to the labor movement? If we do the former, we shall achieve real results. If we do the latter, we shall perform a great disservice to the working class. 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. Most persons who come into a large movement assume that the basic program which attracted them will not be changed in any fundamental respect. Also, since large numbers alone are what count for the opportunist leaders, they smell “success” in the air and will tolerate no disruption. Large movements also attract the attention of the enemy class; it will support opportunist leaders and take steps to crush the proletarian revolutionary line, when the movement threatens to become a significant force.

Therefore, for all these reasons, when a small organization has grown into a large one, it is generally already too late to correct its opportunist line within the organization. Under capitalism the working class does not have state power and freedom, and so discussion alone cannot reorient a large organization. Under capitalism, bureaucracy and opportunism cannot be fought with a cultural revolution.

But in the early days of the communist movement the possibility of realignment among groups and outlooks is still relatively easy; the level of consciousness and concern for correct theory is higher; material prospects of success cannot turn heads so easily. If in such a situation we conduct a fierce struggle for the Marxist-Leninist line, then we can solidify the communist movement. A polarization into two wings will occur, just like the Bolshevik and Menshevik split in Russia, Having achieved clarity, the genuine communist movement will make great strides in taking on the tasks of guiding the labor movement and protecting its ideological and political independence, while the opportunist, Menshevik wing will stagnate, living off capitalist subsidies and petty-bourgeois intellectual self-congratulation.

It is rank tailism to moon upon the labor movement alone as the mysterious source of the solutions to our problems and to assert that one has “profound confidence in the masses…” But such tailism is natural if one really sees no problems of line in the communist movement, or if one wishes to see no such problems in order to provide an easy and comfortable atmosphere for opportunist confusions and vagueness.

Anyone who looks at the facts of development in real life, distinguishing between the communist movement and the labor movement, comparing them and observing the peculiar problems of the early stages of the communist movement, can see the absurdity of going to the mass movement for correct theory. But the ways of sowing confusion are innumerable. One of them appeals to philosophy.