Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

The Struggle for the Party

Two Lines in the Movement

Bowing to Spontaneity and Economism

We have already seen that the opportunists do not clearly distinguish between the communist movement and the labor movement. Confusing the two prepares the way for their solution of the ideological problems of the communist movement, the “solution” of engaging in activity in the labor movement. The opportunists evade the internal struggle and study within the communist movement that needs to be done if we are to achieve ideological clarity and consolidate Marxism-Leninism.

Does this mean that the opportunists are in favor of going out into the labor movement while genuine communists are against this? Not at all. The opportunists put obstacles in the path toward a new communist party–and they also put obstacles in the way of taking Marxism-Leninism to the labor movement, which will be one of the main tasks of the new communist party. Their ideas of how communists should work in the labor movement are incorrect.

The labor movement is a spontaneous movement. So is every mass reform movement that arises in capitalist society–for example, the movement against the U.S. war of aggression in Indochina and the movement to fight racism. Unless and until an organized communist vanguard transforms at least a portion of these movements, they are inevitably based on bourgeois ideology. The labor movement seeks better terms of sale of labor power to capitalist employers, that is, better terms of exploitation. Socialist ideology does not arise spontaneously out of this struggle. The antiwar movement, lacking communist leadership and remaining spontaneous (or guided by the revisionist-Trotskyite-liberal troika), inevitably became a demand for a capitalist “peace” to replace capitalist war. A socialist analysis of imperialism (monopoly capitalism) does not arise spontaneously out of this struggle. And bourgeois analysis of racism is rampant in the anti-racist movement. In all these cases it cannot be otherwise; it is futile to imagine “that the labor movement pure and simple can elaborate, and will elaborate, an independent ideology for itself.” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 129)

As communists enter these mass movements, a choice faces them. They can avoid any ideological struggle in the mass movement. They can live “at peace” with the prevailing bourgeois ideology. Militancy of the people based on bourgeois ideology will be the resource, but also the limit. The communist will never introduce his view of the state, for example, because it might “divide” people. This is the classical economist approach–bow to spontaneity, that is, to capitalist ideology, tail after the movement, confine oneself to being a “loyal worker” in it. The other choice is to act as a communist, to introduce socialist ideas. The communist tells the people that no solution can be found in bargaining only for better wages, but that the wage-system must be destroyed; wars cannot be stopped until imperialism is done away with by proletarian revolutions in the monopoly capitalist countries; racism will exist so long as employers exist, for it is a tool they will not give up. Besides putting forward the only real solution, the communist will continuously attack the misleaders and the ideas they use to hold the movement back. The communist will be a leader of the movement by educating people in such ideological struggle.

The opportunists are guilty of bowing to spontaneity, of worshipping it, of subordinating communist work to spontaneous activity. They do not go as communists into spontaneous movements, though they may claim to. Like generations of worshippers of spontaneity in the past, the anti-party opportunists fear and oppose Marxism-Leninism in the mass movements.

For example, there is the work of the Revolutionary Union in the Laborers union in San Francisco. In one local there, the RU came into an ongoing rank and file caucus led by a communist. There was an election in the union, for which the caucus ran a slate and, predictably, lost. This should not upset a communist, who would ask what educational and organizational advances had been made. But the RU was upset and issued a long leaflet to the caucus to explain the reasons for the “defeat.” In this leaflet the RU revealed a classic case of the economist mentality, almost a textbook-clear example of the ideas Lenin criticized in What Is To Be Done?

I say it was a loss because [a piecard] won AND we didn’t really educate guys to anything but some slogans.

Everyone knew a piecard was going to win the election. The time to complain about this, if it mattered to the RU (which it clearly did), was before the election, when the issue of entering a slate faced the caucus. The RU would not dare admit it is interested basically in trade union positions, but clearly the RU author of this leaflet is upset because a piecard won the manipulated election, because the caucus did not win a trade union position. The second point in the sentence–“we didn’t really educate the guys to anything but some slogans”–shows the contempt of the RU for the real work of the caucus in the election. What did the RU want the men educated to? Did the RU want to educate them in a complete course of basic political theory including the entire text of The State and Revolution? Was the RU objecting to the fact that slogans are summaries of positions needing explanation but which are useful because they are short? Hardly! The RU touches basic study groups only with a ten-foot pole. But what were the men to be educated to if not some slogans? Terms in the contract? Cost of living statistics? The RU member objects to education in politics, to raising any content which rises above the level of spontaneity, the prevailing bourgeois ideology.

The leaflet goes on to say:

The history of workers organizing shows 1) they move first around their most immediate problems. In this case for most guys it meant making a better union. 2) they don’t relate well to attacks on their union leadership from people who haven’t proven themselves to be a well respected opposition and 3) you can’t preach to workers. Things they read or hear have to be borne out in their own experience.

Every line of this passage reeks of slavish submission to spontaneity. Do workers move first around their most immediate problems? Most mass movements are always, first and last, based on “immediate problems” facing people. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was made to solve some very immediate problems – peace, bread, and land. What would a “less immediate” problem be–the interest rate offered on savings accounts? Is this the kind of problem which workers take up after solving the “more immediate” problem of wages?

Obviously, the RU writer does not refer to whether the problem is more or less immediate; he is referring to the depth of the solution to the problems. ”In this case for most guys it meant making a better union. “And the RU believes in following this tendency of the moment, just like the Economists whom Lenin fought believed in concentrating on “rules for the workers’ mutual benefit fund” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 125) The RU and the Economists imply that workers pass through a necessary sequence of stages of consciousness and that communists must follow this sequence of stages. This can only mean that the opportunists believe that the spontaneous movement will become conscious on its own, for they offer no leadership toward greater class-consciousness.

But all this is false. There is no necessary sequence of stages of consciousness. Revolutionary crises can and do occur, and the workers question the system itself without necessarily having gone through some graded series of solutions within the system. What even series of stages of consciousness can the RU find leading up to the October Revolution of 1917? The history of tsarist Russia displays no such climbing staircase of stages. It shows a pattern of ebb and flow, of revolutionary crisis, periods of reaction and demoralization, sudden leaps and so forth, not a neat graph of stages. Therefore, communists do not have to wait and cannot wait for consciousness to rise on its own. The Economists and the RU may want to talk about strictly trade unionist solutions until the situation somehow magically leads to class-consciousness of itself.

But spontaneous movements will not escape from bourgeois ideology on their own. Therefore, communists introduce the fundamental solution to problems, be they more or less “immediate” problems, from the very moment they enter the mass movements. The RU member apparently has not read Lenin, who said:

It is therefore highly important to establish the fact that a part (perhaps even a majority) of the Social-Democrats, active in the period of 1895-98, justly considered it possible even then, at the very beginning of the ’spontaneous’ movement, to come forward with a most extensive program and a militant tactical line. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 124)

In short, it is wrong to say that workers move first around their most immediate problems. The theory of an inevitable sequence of stages, from lower to higher, is false and, in its effects on communists, passive and demoralizing. Socialist ideas must be introduced from the beginning.

We are also told that workers do not “relate well to attacks on their union leadership from people who haven’t proven themselves to be a well respected opposition.” What a lovely non-class statement! May we ask, whose respect – the respect of the workers or the respect of the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class? How does one become a “well respected opposition”? By waiting one’s turn to speak at union meetings until the chair grants recognition? By showing that one knows how to turn bourgeois laws to effect more capably, more like a lawyer, than the pie-cards in office? Is not this the servile spirit implied in the admonition to be “respectable” in attacking their union leadership? It is precisely the job of the caucus to show the workers that the piecards are not “their” leadership. To gain the respect of the workers as a class, it is necessary to attack the union leadership, at every point where it sells out the members, and by summing up in a systematic, conscious way the nature, essence, and trend of the labor bureaucrats. It is necessary to be a model who shows the workers that it is not necessary to bear the piecards on our backs, who leads the workers to overcome apathy, fear, reluctance, training forbidding what is “not done,” and all the other obstacles to independent activity among the members on which the hacks rely.

Third, we are given the homily that “you can’t preach to workers. Things they read or hear have to be borne out in their own experience.” Why does the RU say that you cannot preach to workers, instead of to people in general? This implies that workers are more simple-minded, less able to generalize, than. . . “you and I.” Lots of advanced theory is fine for us communists, but not for workers. Workers, it is true, do not usually have time to gather and collate a broad fund of information about society in general. The work they do, if it does not involve such research, prevents them from doing this and fills up their time. But communists can and must bring the integrated world view of Marxism-Leninism to the workers. And in particular, we can bring a deep analysis of a struggle the workers are involved in to them. The RU is implying that Marxism-Leninism is in a world apart from people’s experience, while the narrow, particular, economist outlook is not. Actually, the great truths of Marxism-Leninism are borne out in people’s experience, and consistently so, while narrow, “practical,” spontaneous bourgeois ideology is continually running into contradictions. It is only the opportunists and sloppy thinkers who do not need experience to bear out what they are told. For the opportunists of the RU, the OL and the Guardian, Marxism-Leninism may be nothing more than a series of incantations to which they must pay their respects in order to retain a place in the communist movement. But to genuine communists Marxism-Leninism is borne out by experience, and life can only be consistently understood by Marxist, economic, class analysis.

It is also possible and necessary to broaden what people take as “their own experience.” They must become observers of the political scene, world affairs, and the like, so that they will have a greater fund of experience on which to draw. In opposing the Economists, Lenin spoke at length in What Is To Be Done? of the need for comprehensive political exposures:

In no way except by means of such exposures can the masses be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity. . . . Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected–unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic point of view and no other. The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life;. .. (p. 154-155)

It is only those who bow to spontaneity who limit people to their most immediate surroundings and then, having shackled people in this manner, shackle the communist movement by saying that what it “preaches” must stick to this narrow rut of events. The author then goes on:

From the point of view of trying to have people understand their long range interests, the role of the union, the politicians, the state etc.; it only HURTS to try to have people unite around more advanced political ideas when they can’t even unite around their short range interests.

This merely confirms the impression deduced already that the author adheres to the theory that consciousness proceeds in a sequence of stages from “short range” to long range.” The RU member talks of uniting people. What does he mean by unity? Would he have us wait until 75% of the workers are ready to vote for communism before he will let us put forward our ideas? The point of introducing class-consciousness at the beginning of work in the labor movement is to build up a base for Marxism-Leninism, which entails splitting the bourgeois harmony that exists spontaneously. Polarization accompanied by increasing clarity is a good thing, not a bad thing; forces previously dormant and subdued by capitalism become active in the movement. There is no other way to build up our strength. But the RU’er proceeds like a bargaining capitalist politician who puts together majority blocs; the only difference is that the RU’er uses a fashionable word, “unity,” to describe this policy of not doing communist work. Only by beginning, as a minority, can we truly unite the workers in struggle so that they will defeat the capitalists, the pie-cards and their remnants in the battles to come.

The RU should trace its roots with pride back to the Economists, for it is to both to whom Lenin’s words apply when he quoted their catchwords in derision, “Catchwords like ’We must concentrate, not on the ’cream’ of the workers, but on the ’average,’ ’mass worker’; ’Politics always obediently follows economies’, etc., etc.” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 127)

There is the communist movement and the labor movement. All are agreed that communists must be active in the labor movement. But how shall communists work? Shall they become the ideological guide, organizational and political leadership, the defense against bourgeois ideology, or shall they bow to spontaneity? This is the issue which divides the opportunists from the genuine communists. The latter understand

... that all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of ’the conscious element, ’ of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers. Ibid., p. 128-129)

Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ’third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology. . . . Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy. (Ibid., p. 130)

* * *

Economism is the form that bowing to spontaneity takes in the trade union movement. But it is not only here that the anti-party opportunists bow to spontaneity. They have done the same thing for years in the antiwar movement against U.S. aggression in Indochina. The main point which distinguishes communists from others in the antiwar movement is their speaking the truth that to end wars of imperialist aggression it is necessary to end monopoly capitalism. This is the fact which connects the antiwar movement to preparation for proletarian revolution. But on this point the RU, the OL and Guardian opportunists have done little or no work. The slogans of the antiwar movement have by and large not taught that to end such wars it is necessary to end monopoly capitalism. Educational work along these lines has been scattered and small in scope.

Instead there have been debates about how to serve the Vietnamese at each turn of events. Slogans like “Sign the treaty” and “Enforce the peace” have been the issue. The fact that such questions have been the primary ones testifies to the tailism of the opportunists. Ideological leadership – the struggle to introduce the Marxist-Leninist analysis of imperialism and overcome bourgeois pacifism and other ideas – is obviously absent here. And what is the effect? Marches, demonstrations, and rallies are of significance primarily to show the people themselves and the government which line the people support. The slogans of the marches are crucial; numbers are important only when they testify to a growing mass adherence to the revolutionary mass line. The opportunists, however, operate on the view that numbers in themselves constitute pressure on the government, and they have confined the slogans and the line of the antiwar marches, and even of their own “anti-imperialist contingents,” to momentary slogans of support for the latest step in the military and diplomatic struggle of the Vietnamese people. But the government does not care about such “pressure” – its effect is negligible. This approach does not in reality even serve the Vietnamese people. What does worry the government is an awakening among the people, as would be demonstrated by growing numbers of persons marching for an anti-imperialist line. The question cannot be evaded: there is a conception of imperialism implied in any antiwar analysis. This analysis and conception will be reflected in the slogans of the movement. Do we find the Marxist-Leninist line in the opportunists’ slogans? No, Instead, we find, underneath the surface of passing urgings of the moment, various petty-bourgeois conceptions of imperialism: imperialism is a policy against other nations; we must rely on the national liberation struggles to defeat imperialism (instead of proletarian revolution); the working class benefits from imperialism, or has only a moral interest in fighting it.

This bowing to spontaneity is expressed politically and organizationally as well. The opportunists of the Revolutionary Union, the October League and the Guardian have followed behind bourgeois ideological leadership in the antiwar movement – the “Communist” Party USA, the Trotskyites, the pacifists and liberals.

The opportunists joined the marches as formal members of a bloc of or with these forces (through various “April 22,” “anti-imperialist” and other coalitions). Gadflies they have been, nothing more. A fundamental break with the “C”PUSA and crowd has not occurred. The development of a revolutionary antiwar movement and new forms of struggle, going beyond mass meetings policed by Trotskyite marshals, has been avoided. The anti-party opportunists, speaking as the communist force in name, never undertook this path toward a break, a struggle with the liberal antiwar misleaders. They never built an antiwar movement which not only raised immediate demands against the imperialists but also exposed the compromisers in the antiwar movement. An article by this author giving an analysis of this opportunist refusal to develop the antiwar movement is reprinted in the appendix.

Let us add to this discussion some remarks on what the speaker for the Guardian had to say about the antiwar movement in relation to forming a party at the Guardian’s forum. According to him, the problem was:

An elitist stance towards the working class by many of the most prominent forces in the antiwar movement. . . . these forces frequently struck a pose of martyrdom while avoiding the arduous and unglamorous task of mass organizing. (Guardian, April 4, 1973)

Not how to organize the masses troubles the Guardian editor, simply doing it agitates him. It is a common maneuver of opportunists to fire away at anarchists and terrorists (here, the Hoffmans and Rubins) in such a way as to counterpose to their absurdities only the patient, “arduous,” “unglamorous” task of “mass organizing.” The Guardian editor could be speaking as a precinct man of the Democratic Party. He trails after the “sentiment against the war [which] had a consistent class base from the very beginning”–that is, no work in raising consciousness was needed, he feels, so that a golden opportunity to bow to spontaneity was missed. The issue of imparting a Marxist-Leninist understanding of imperialism (monopoly capitalism) does not even arise with him. For the Guardian editor himself has a petty-bourgeois understanding of imperialism, revealed in his other “criticism” of the antiwar movement:

... the antiwar movement never successfully linked the struggle against the war in Indochina with the struggle against racism and the system of white supremacy at home .... in concrete terms it was never able to forge the kind of alliance with the oppressed nationalities that could have provided the basis for merging and unifying the two major mass popular struggles of the 1960s. (Ibid.)

The Guardian editor obviously sees the issue in terms of a color line on a global scale, the nonwhite colonial people outside the U.S. and the nonwhites in the U.S. (“the oppressed nationalities”) versus “white supremacy.” Where does the bulk of the U.S. working class fit in this picture? Obviously, they are the enemy, part of white supremacy; or they can only support the nonwhite colonial people and the nonwhite workers in the U.S. out of moral sympathy. This is a false, pro-imperialist, anti-working-class line. Both racism and aggression abroad are tools – different tools–of monopoly capitalism used against U.S. workers.

White workers suffer materially from both. The speaker is trying to paste together two liberal movements, a liberal antiwar movement and a liberal anti-racist movement, without injecting class consciousness in either case. The two movements were not to be “merged and unified;” they were to be heightened and directed to a common, higher goal of the working class–a revolutionary movement against monopoly capitalism. But lacking a class analysis and substituting an analysis running along color lines, the speaker obviously could not realize this. And since it is impossible to have a non-class or “above class” outlook, he is actually peddling an anti-working-class line. This is the real content and objective effect of all liberalism.

In his theoretical conception of spontaneity, the Guardian speaker was caught again in a hopeless muddle. At one point he spoke of “reliance on a politics of spontaneity.” But later he asks, “... is it any wonder that spontaneity–rather than politics–was in command?” This is sloppy thinking on a cardinal point – is spontaneity the opposite of politics or not? When he says that spontaneity is the opposite of politics, then the speaker allows himself to avoid spontaneity with any kind of politics. But this is false, for the use of capitalist politics (e. g., in the antiwar movement) is precisely the way to bow to spontaneity. Spontaneity is simply bourgeois ideology in action. But when the speaker turns around and acknowledges that there is a politics of spontaneity (capitalist politics), then he is admitting that his exhortations to engage in “political organizing” are exhortations to engage in any kind of politics, capitalist or revolutionary Marxist-Leninist politics. Capitalist or socialist–he is indifferent between them, so long as there is lots of political activity! Lenin said:

Trade-unionism does not exclude ’polities’ altogether, as some imagine. Trade unions have always conducted some political (but not Social-Democratic) agitation and struggle. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 122n.)

By sidling over to the view that the opposite of spontaneity is politics – any politics – the Guardian speaker reveals that he was quite sincere in talking about ”the arduous and unglamorous task of mass organizing” exactly like a Democratic precinct man. Spontaneity includes such politics. Just as trade unions are led to seek various pieces of legislation, so will a spontaneous antiwar movement line up behind McGovern-Hatfield amendments. This lining up is sometimes described with delusions of grandeur as “putting pressure on the imperialists,” but the basic fact remains: spontaneity has to do with the level of consciousness and the class ideology which dominates a movement, not whether it is within formal capitalist political channels or not. The Guardian editor’s main interest is in numbers and apparatus, not the line which these numbers support and which the apparatus serves. He continually expresses contempt for concern with ”ideological purity ’ and “caution” about the line which guides the work; he thinks these are the mark of the ”ineffectual sect” (e. g., Lenin and the Bolsheviks). On the other hand, editor Silber becomes enthusiastic about sheer numbers, perhaps a network of local clubs and coalitions, the patient, arduous work of organizing, etc. But it is Silber, not we, who opposes numbers to “ideological purity.” He thinks the numbers are possible only by giving up a consistent line, and this he is willing to do. Thus, he is unwilling to begin–to break with the liberal antiwar movement and develop a revolutionary antiwar movement in struggle against it. This struggle he avoids, does not even contemplate, while he maintains his wish for numbers:

... no question today is of greater concern to communists than that of the united front. How to arrive at the delicate balance of broad-based unity in the struggle against imperialism on the one hand and the independent role of revolutionary forces on the other hand is at the heart of many of the ideological debates among today’s Marxist-Leninists. (Guardian, June 27, 1973)

That is, the question of the party is of less concern than that of the united front. The picture of “delicate balance” has the overtones of a mass movement; it has a position for self-proclaimed revolutionaries at the top; it has loyalty in words to the struggle against imperialism–but this delicate balance is impossible because it excludes the struggle against the agents of imperialism within the movement, the revisionist and other misleaders. For like them, the Guardian editor is willing to follow the politics of spontaneity, whose existence he does not comprehend in theory.

Guardian editor Silber does not like “tiny sects of ideologues,” and it may seem that we are searching “only” for clarity (as if one can proceed fruitfully in confusion, without clarity). Let us turn to the correct way to work in spontaneous movements.