The Communists... are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. (Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, pp. 47-48.)
The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.
But they never cease, for a single instant, to instill into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat...
In all these movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time. (Ibid., pp. 74, 75, 76)
In these words Marx and Engels summed the answer to the question, how to work in the mass struggle? Communists must bring to the fore in every movement the property question, class analysis, the economic foundation. And they must point to the only solution, the future of the working-class movement, socialism. How obvious these words seem, yet how much they have been forgotten as the opportunists have gradually fogged the atmosphere in the last few years. Consider, for example, the antiwar movement. Debates ”on the left” over slogans, strategy and tactics have gradually narrowed to the most immediate matter only: what slogan will most serve the Vietnamese in the current turn of their struggle? Mass agitation and education on the economic root of U.S. aggression in Indochina has shrivelled, until many in the movement were forced to latch on to such a minor facet as the prospecting for oil off the coast of south Vietnam! While the word “imperialism” has become more acceptable, and even fashionable, the understanding of the concept has not been spread throughout the ranks of the movement and the working class. Many solutions to the war have been offered in slogans – get the troops out, sign the treaty, enforce the peace, etc. – but they have gradually come to stand alone, when in fact they should always be supplemented by the simple but profound truth that it is impossible to end war without destroying monopoly capitalism. Those who would be communist cannot join a coalition for an antiwar rally without insuring the occasion for a speaker to present this truth to the people. Communist literature must explain this fact, link the control and sabotage of production by monopolies in the United States with these wars, through the monopoly capitalists’ need for assured supplies of raw materials and outlets for the export of capital. It is, after all, impossible to understand world affairs today without understanding imperialism (monopoly capitalism), the law of uneven development, the drive for strategic control of raw materials and the necessity of the export of capital. It is impossible to understand that the war in Vietnam is not a mistake, is not a policy of “madmen in the Pentagon,” is not the sectional interest of some “military-industrial complex,” unless we understand something of the economic basis, the nature and necessary actions of the monopoly capitalist class, in short, the property question at its degree of development at this time.
To spread this understanding is the duty of communists, but the opportunists of the RU, the OL and the Guardian have done no more than pay lip service to it. The questions that excite them are questions of jockeying for position with the “Communist” Party USA revisionists, the Trotskyites, and the liberals. What was the basis for the opportunists’ recent attack on the Trotskyites? It was that the latter did not support the Vietnamese by endorsing the slogan which called for signing the peace agreement! This is the most shallow possible “difference” with the Trotskyites. It betrays the fact that the October League and the Revolutionary Union were tail-ending the movement, not giving it leadership. They were, in fact, up to their old game of hiding behind someone else’s skirts. It used to be the Black Panther Party; this time it is the Vietnamese people. But the way truly to serve the Vietnamese is not to limit the movement to the most immediate diplomatic slogan. The amount of pressure that can be built up on the U.S. government in this way is miniscule; it does not give a damn for current public opinion. But the monopoly capitalists do worry when they see class-consciousness increasing among the exploited population. By continually educating people a-bout imperialism, by offering the revolutionary alternative, the antiwar movement can accumulate the only force that might make the imperialists pause. Why, for example, did they become so worried about the student movement in the late 1960’s? Certainly the reason was not because students possess much material clout by themselves. But there was a revolutionary wing of the student movement which was enlightening many students about imperialism, classes, and the need to champion the cause of the working class, socialism. This upset the imperialists, led them to finance campaigns like that of Eugene McCarthy, offer liberal games within the universities, etc. Even from the most narrow, pragmatic perspective of “helping the Vietnamese” in the short run, the policy of abandoning communist education about this imperialist war was futile.
Consider, briefly, the antiracism struggle. Where has the property question, the class analysis, the economic foundation been in communist activity here? Among the opportunists, it has been almost absent. On the question of racism it is necessary to teach (and therefore, to understand): 1) that racism is used by businessmen to divide workers in the United States; 2) that all workers, both black and white, suffer when division undercuts and weakens their struggles; 3) that it is in the class interest (and not only moral duty) of white workers to fight racism; and 4) that only socialism can get rid of businessmen, their racial discrimination, and also get rid of unemployment, thus undercutting the material basis of the fears and misconceptions which businessmen use to foster racism. Only in the context of these propositions can the super-exploitation of black workers be understood; only in this context can the various movements of protest against this discrimination be given effective, communist leadership. But the opportunists are hardly ever heard giving a class analysis of racism, offering any explanation of its material basis, let alone explaining it correctly. Therefore, all their activity around this question, whether it be discussion of “the national question,” celebration (from behind) of the “vanguard role of black workers,” or agitation around particular racist injustices is not communist.
To carry out this basic work of the communist explanation of every social issue is only the first of three sides of our work. Second, we must in every mass movement recruit by propaganda for the vanguard. Propaganda and agitation are two different things, Plekhanov taught. As Lenin quoted him:
A propagandist presents many ideas to one or a few persons; an agitator presents only one or a few ideas, but he presents them to a mass of people. (What is to be Done? , p. 152)
All that we have been discussing so far is principally in the realm of agitation. But we must find points at which to transform immediate questions, so that the main interest is not in applying Marxism-Leninism to analyze them, but rather in proceeding through these issues to the core and basics of Marxism-Leninism, to socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. This work must, in capitalist society, necessarily be limited to fewer persons than agitation. But it can and must be done. Communists in mass movements, through their dedication and the obvious power of the analysis they bring to these movements, arouse in some co-workers in the struggle an interest in Marxism-Leninism. Every communist must continually be aware of this possibility and sense every display of interest. He must judge when to acknowledge that he believes in socialism and violent revolution to a fellow, and when to invite him into a propaganda circle. This is the whole question of spreading the basics of Marxism-Leninism among the working class and other people. We shall have to take up this matter again later, but let it suffice to observe that this is a necessary component of the work of communists. The greatest proof that the anti-party opportunists are not performing this work is the public evidence–the appallingly low level of theory which their representatives display. Documenting this is a matter of a series of concrete exposures of the opportunists’ garbling of Marxist-Leninist theory.
We arrive, finally, at the type of participation in mass struggles which, on the surface, is closest to what the opportunists of the RU, the OL and the Guardian yearn for. Communists do not only conduct agitation and propaganda linking the immediate issue to the general interests of the working class. They also apply Marxism-Leninism to leadership of the struggle. They push the movement forward, as Marx and Engels said, because they have the advantage (which they seek to share widely through agitation and propaganda) of clearly understanding the line of march and the conditions of struggle.
In every strike a host of questions arise which can only be answered by combining broad and sharp perception of e-vents with a knowledge of the characteristics of classes and the class struggle. The role of the lawyer, the motivation of the union district representative, the class nature of the courts, the calculations of the employer as he decides whether to negotiate–these and other aspects of the struggle can only be met by the application of Marxism-Leninism to the case at hand. Communists must offer leadership based on this knowledge. If they only conduct agitation and propaganda, they will never link their science with the experience of the masses in such a way as to show workers the importance of Marxism-Leninism and of communist leadership.
Perhaps the outstanding feature of such communist leadership is its continuing education by negative example. It is in warning of the wrong turn to take, breaking illusions the workers may have, exposing rotten leadership, that the communist makes most of his contribution. This is the way to be “that section which pushes forward all others.” It is impossible to make people, for very long, do things they do not want to do and are not convinced of the need to do. Therefore, it is not solely a job of cajoling, selling, or pushing for a positive step forward which the communist carries on. True, he has a plan, and he should unfold each step as the logical moment comes. But the next step always requires overcoming some obstacle, and it is the exposure of that obstacle which is the special contribution of the communist. This means two things: 1) patient advocacy and polemic among the people, and 2) attacks on and exposures of the sellouts, the compromisers. In class society, most bad ideas have dedicated and determined advocates, especially in a struggle from which businessmen stand to lose. These advocates are more insidious than the open spokesman for the enemy, because they pretend to be for the same goal as you and I, but in their proposals, the actions they offer, they are saboteurs of the struggle. Such persons and forces must be exposed. Their true nature must be proved to the people by patient accumulation of concrete facts and logical interpretation of them as a whole.
Aversion to this task of carrying the class struggle into the heart of our camp (because the class enemy has his advocates here) was revealed by the RU member in the Laborers caucus when he said:
. . .they don’t relate well to attacks on their union lead ership from people who haven’t proven themselves to be a well respected opposition. . .
The same tasks are necessary in all limited movements not only the labor movement. In the antiwar movement, criticism of pacifism, criticism of the liberals, exposure of the revisionist-Trotskyite-liberal troika of misleaders was necessary. The anti-party opportunists are known her by their absence. Open, extensive criticism of this type is what they did not do. Instead, they coexisted in cozy ambiguity with these misleaders, through the mechanism of sub-coalitions within the broad spectrum of sponsors of anti war marches. Privately, one might hear them calculating maneuvers against the dominant hacks, but the educational value was absent. For their maneuvers only amounted to jockeying for position, the kind of “politicking” that is rife in trade union bureaucracies between various factions of piecards.
To get an idea of the failure of the opportunists to make this communist contribution to current struggles, one might compare two journals. Take, on the one hand, the journal of the Revolutionary Union, its Red Papers series. Take, on the other hand, the pre-1971 issues of Progressive Labor, when PL followed what was overall a correct path. (This is the period when PL was growing, too, and as soon as its line degenerated, it shrivelled up.) On the antiwar movement, on national elections, on the student movement, on major strikes, one can find in the pages of the old PL’s concrete analysis of misleaders and their programs. There was the famous exchange with Studies on the Left, a “socialist” magazine that opposed a Leninist party. There are exposes of the line of the CPUSA in its draft program and the eclectic theory of its house economist, Victor Perlo. When some in the movement were ready to abandon the party for a guerrilla movement, PL criticized Regis Debray. Throughout the years there are stories documenting the sellout acts of the union piecards. Martin Luther King’s dead-end road to passivity, nonviolence, was attacked long before the opportunists of the RU and the OL started hiding behind the Black Panthers’ “revolutionary” rhetoric. PL took on Herbert Marcuse. And of course, there was the series of articles on SDS, each one exposing the ever more sophisticated reformism of the opportunist leaders in the National Office before 1969. The capitalist fraud and financing of the radical eco-freaks, with their ideology of “love the trees and hate the people,” was shown up. All this is what made each issue of the magazine eagerly awaited by militants in these movements – and dreaded as “splitting” by the opportunists. Now take up the issues of the Red Papers. Here is the place for the RU to show what it can contribute in this respect. Communist leadership is awaited. And what do we find? The earlier issues have some distortions and slanders of the worker-student alliance wing of SDS, of a phrasemongering, tail-ending sort, hiding behind the skirts of the Black Panthers. But the work of taking up obstacles to the path forward for the movement, of showing people the illusions they have been fed, and of exposing those who purvey these illusions simply does not interest the opportunists in the RU very much. So we have family quarrels with Venceremos, and term-paper monstrosities of misinformation and self-contradictory positions, as on “the national question.” But when it comes to polemical education, the combination of study and struggle which current events permit and require, the harvest is meager. It turns out that precisely in the area which the opportunists appear to be talking about, engagement in the ongoing struggle, we find them wanting; they are simply not communist.
Applying Marxism-Leninism to current struggles is something which every communist must learn by doing. A sound basis in theory, in Marxism-Leninism, is necessary; it cannot all be learned from the particular struggle (this would be the pragmatist, anti-scientific method of trial and error alone). Normally, the career of a communist in this respect passes through three phases. First, the militant from a particular struggle becomes involved in the communist movement. Second, a passion to master the basics of Marxism-Leninism dominates him. This is “the temper and point of view of the young Communists, or of rank-and-file workers who are only just coming to Communism.” (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, p. 79) But the communist cannot remain in this phase and only conduct agitation and propaganda, Third, he must return to the struggle, where he will be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from events while striving to return periodically to the basics of the science. He will find them enriched by his experience each time.
Historically in the United States, the main problem has been the task of spreading the basics of Marxist-Leninist theory, rather than getting people involved in struggle. The opportunists of the RU, the OL and the Guardian get a few people involved in struggle, but they do it in a non-communist way. In the task of spreading theory, however, the opportunists do not commit that many mistakes, simply because they do not do it. In fact, they oppose the spread of theory.