Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

The Struggle for the Party

Two Lines in the Movement

Taking Marxist-Leninist Theory to the Working People

The communist movement in the United States is practically beginning anew. This new beginning has been forced by the triumph of revisionism within the “C”PUSA. In the natural history of the communist movement, the first persons attracted to it ordinarily acquire in a short time a fairly detailed acquaintance (and by some, a mastery) of our theory, Marxism-Leninism. The communist movement, as distinct from the labor movement, can almost be defined by this characteristic. The first persons to go over to communism are those who have the time and the means for achieving a theoretical overview of society, the development of which is summed up and explained in a scientific way only by Marxism-Leninism. As Lenin quoted from an article Kautsky wrote in 1901:

. . . socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. . .The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia [”K. K. ’s italics]: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwuchsig]. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld program quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat [literally: saturate the proletariat] with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. (What Is to Be Done?, p. 129)

Marx was a Ph.D.; Lenin got a law degree; Mao went to Peking University and met Li Ta-chao, a professor and early Marxist of China. Who can first shape or acquire the socialist worldview? Those who are exposed to the widest range of information about human society (immediate, daily experience is not sufficient), who have acquired the habit of collating and generalizing this knowledge, and who enjoy the leisure to put it all together. Of course, only a very few bourgeois intellectuals, a miniscule amount as a percentage, pass over to communism, because for most their job in capitalist society, their task, which is buttressed by all sorts of conditions of their life and livelihood, is to apologize for an irrational system. The truth about how society works is anathema to that system, and most bourgeois intellectuals have developed tremendous abilities to look at what is secondary and ignore what is primary, to ignore the truth and construct worlds of fantasy.

Nevertheless, the first recruits to communism generally come from these strata and not from blue-collar or clerical workers. Factory workers and office employees with routine, narrow jobs are chained forty hours a week to exhausting, petty, repetitive work. They are isolated from broad social knowledge. Their chances to wander around a decent-sized university library, for example, are usually very slim: there is none nearby, the hours are not set up for workers, and the atmosphere is alien. That is why it is from among those strata whose jobs give them a wider sweep of information that the first few communists generally arise.

Today, the strata from which these communists come forth have broadened. Large numbers of persons from the working class are going to college, where the opportunity to read and study on one’s own, or to meet an occasional genuine Marxist among the hordes of phonies, presents itself. It is no accident that the core of the communist movement today consists of persons who became acquainted with Marxism-Leninism during the student movement of the late 1960’s.

The factors which brought forth the first communist workers are not, however, absolute. As the general crisis of capitalism intensifies, more and more working people are driven to look for a theory and strategy for understanding what is happening and seeking a solution to problems the society throws on them–insufficient earnings to support a family, unemployment, use of their sons as cannon fodder in unjustifiable wars, etc. Once a need to reinterpret the world has arisen, once the familiar views which have carried most people through life have obviously failed, then workers in general begin to look around. They may or may not get to the library, but they will read newspapers sold at the plant gate; they will join study groups.

Workers in general, not intellectuals and students, are going to form the bulk of the communist movement. If the first communists will undertake to bring Marxism-Leninism to these workers, then these communists will create the channel to the working class which was lacking. By systematic effort, the first communists can thus make our theory available to the working class. But to do this it is necessary to defend the theory, to spread it, and not to have disdain for it. This, then, is the struggle between two lines that arises: shall we be teachers of communism and take Marxism-Leninism to the workers – or shall we be monopolists of the theory (or of those phrases we have learned to conjugate)? Shall we spread the theory or shall we isolate it and shunt it aside?

The anti-party opportunists of the RU, the OL and the Guardian do not even give signs of being aware of the issue, of the importance of the question. Discussion of it among them is lacking or merely pro forma. The question is a major one for us today, especially in the United States, which is historically weak in matters of theory. Yet the opportunists speak derisively of “the sudden discovery of historical destiny” (Guardian, April 4, 1973); they crow that “these questions will ultimately be resolved not in theoretical debate but in life” (what is theoretical debate if not part of human life, and a rather large part among communists today when our movement is young?) (Ibid.); they whine that those who want to think clearly “always put differences first” (Guardian, May 2, 1973); our main danger is “typing a program based upon book learning only” (when we have seen hardly any substantial programs, whether based on book learning, direct experience, or a combination of both!) (Ibid.). Most frankly, they come out and say, “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)

These quotations are from the Guardian forum on party-building, by the speakers for the newspaper, the October League, and the Revolutionary Union. They conform to and reflect the practice of these groups.

One of the most important vehicles for spreading our theory among the workers is the newspaper. Lenin wrote in What Is to Be Done? about the need for a national, political newspaper that would educate workers in matters of theory. Indeed, this was the immediate purpose of his book. Economism, complete concentration on and self-limitation to trade union struggles, was not enough. Lenin proved that the revolutionary workers were saying to the Economists:

... we are not children to be fed on the thin gruel of ’economic’ politics alone; we want to learn the details of all aspects of political life and to take part actively in every single political event. In order that we may do this, the intellectuals must talk to us less of what we already know and tell us more about what we do not yet know and what we can never learn from our factory and ’economic’ experience, namely, political knowledge. (What Is to Be Done?, pp. 158-159)

How did the Revolutionary Union interpret this lesson from Lenin and the workers? For years it put all its resources into and confined itself to economist newspapers on a “united front” basis – Wildcat, the Bay Area Worker, etc. These newspapers contained almost no explicit Marxist-Leninist theory, either in exposition or in application to political events. Some agitational militancy over the Vietnam war was there, among the industrial news; but for the RU it is as if Iskra had never existed, had never set a model for all.

Lenin quoted a newspaper report by a political opponent who admitted, “They read over once or twice the petty details of factory life in other towns, not their own, and then they read no more... dull, they find it... ” (Ibid., p. 158n.) Such was the reception the workers gave to the economist newspapers. And exactly the same reception was earned by the RU. We have a report from a comrade in the south San Francisco Bay Area who tells us what happens when the workers are in the lunchroom. The Bay Area Worker and The New Voice will be sitting side by side on the benches – and he observes the workers picking up the latter and ignoring the former. For The New Voice undertakes to teach from current political events. It does not confine itself to labor news (although, like every communist newspaper, it has a substantial section devoted to it).

After several years of existence in this manner, the RU realized that it had better have an ostensibly political newspaper. At the same time that it finally began its newspaper, the other main opportunist-led group, the October League, launched The Call. The scope of articles is broadened, but again, the theory is lacking. We take an issue of The Call at random, the issue of May 1973, and thumb through it. There is labor news: the lead article is “Defend the Right to Strike.” There is the devotion to the latest turn in the antiwar struggle, represented by an article on violations of the Paris agreements. On page six we find an expose of the lies of the U.S. government about the treatment of prisoners of war in Vietnam. This article had the potential to make a basic point, but it is confined to an attack on “the Nixon government” for the lies. The article could have taught something about the monopoly capitalist class, and not simply the Nixon government, had it noted that these stories of the POW’s were obviously acceptable to all the newspapers, liberal or conservative, for they all carried these palpable lies of torture and so forth. The newspapers, owned and run by the monopoly capitalist class, cry that a “free press” is under attack by the Nixon administration, and they take sides in that quarrel over spoils raging among the businessmen, the Watergate affair. But does The Call teach us that the propaganda machine is a tool of the monopoly capitalist class? No. The proof given in the universal dissemination of obvious lies by that propaganda machine is not taken up; “militant,” non-class agitation “for the Vietnamese” is all we are given.

Similar articles of news, not class analysis, follow. There is an article on page seventeen dedicated to showing that the Soviet Union’s agricultural crisis is due to the restoration of capitalism and not to the vagaries of the weather; it is a capable rewrite of material from the New China News Agency. Finally, there is the article on party-building in the United States. We have seen and are seeing what “contributions” the October League has to make in this field! Thus, the usual attack on a sound Marxist-Leninist theoretical foundation:

“These people [who demand such a foundation of theory] have disdain for the mass struggle of the people and view communists only in a narrow sense of holding certain Marxist ideas.” (The Call, May 1973, p. 10) This sentence is a concentrated expression of the typical misunderstanding of theory and practice among the opportunists. 1) Marxist ideas are based on the entire experience of humanity, and only Marxist ideas reflect the entirety of the mass struggle of the people. Those who limit their outlook to current reform struggles are the ones who really have disdain for both the people’s mass struggles and Marxist-Leninist theory. 2) Would The Call please tell us which Marxist ideas “ultra-leftists” hold and do not hold, for it refers to “certain” Marxist ideas. Communists, as The Call knows, demand the replacement of the bourgeois world outlook by an integrated Marxist outlook. There is nothing “narrow” about this transformation of world outlook which every communist must accomplish. 3) What is Marxist theory for, if not to make fruitful action in the world possible? Such action obviously includes good leadership of the mass struggle of the people; why, then, does The Call counterpose respect for such struggle to the possession of Marxist theory? The Call is actually saying here to be more effective in the mass struggle, you should know less Marxism! You must liberate yourself from the hangup of thinking that communists have to hold Marxist ideas in order to function as communists in the mass struggle of the people. We might go on, but in general this article reflects the same views we have been quoting from the October League and the anti-party opportunists as a whole.

If all this seems “remote from real life,” let us note that on page fourteen we read:

The Statement [Mao’s May 20, 1970 statement] pointed up the fact that while U.S. imperialism looks like ’a huge monster’ it is in essence a ’paper tiger.’ This means that the aggressive nature of imperialism has driven it around the world in search of super-profits from the labor of the world’s peoples.

From the context, it is clear that the author is referring primarily to the colonial peoples. But this is incorrect. Imperialism is driven overseas 1) to secure sources of raw materials (safe from other monopolists) and 2) to find outlets for the export of surplus capital in order to maintain monopoly, restricted markets and high profits within the United States. The Call has given a petty-bourgeois explanation of imperialism.

It plays down the essence of imperialism, the heightened grip of exploitation by monopoly capitalists in their own country, over “their own” working class. The “cheap labor” explanation of imperialism which The Call recites does not explain the fundamental necessity of the drive of U.S. imperialism to go overseas; the essence of this drive is more than a matter of some extra profits due to cheap labor. Furthermore, this theory does not conform to the facts, and as an explanation of imperialism it can be exploded by any knowledgeable critic who wishes to blunt the “Marxist” critique of imperialism. Finally, this explanation can lead to an alliance with the Meany piecards of the AFL-CIO who are pushing a national-chauvinist line of uniting with U.S. business to protect our so-called high wage rates against an influx of “cheap foreign goods.” This is not abstract possibility; we have heard that the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization adopted this line and united with the Meany bureaucrats to support the Burke-Hartke protectionist trade bill. In real life, correct and profound theory is not a luxury, but an absolutely necessary guide to action. Let this small example complete a survey of the “theoretical” contributions of the political newspapers of the anti-party opportunists, once they launched such newspapers.

A communist newspaper should regularly feature genuine articles of theoretical enlightenment, based on sound and deep interpretation of current political events. As Lenin said:

We must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness. (What Is to Be Done?, p. 144)

He then went on to explain what this meant in detail. We would refer the reader to a representative selection of issues of The New Voice for what we believe is an example of education and development of consciousness through theory applied to political life.

While a political newspaper is one important vehicle for spreading theory among the workers, there are other channels, too. One of the most important is the study group in basics of Marxism-Leninism. In this situation, a trained person can work with a small number of persons over a longer period of time to teach the basics of Marxism-Leninism, especially political theory, the nature of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc.

Incidentally, while on the subject of propagandists, I should like to say a few words in criticism of the usual practice of overloading this profession with incapable people and thus lowering the level of propaganda. . . .There are very few propagandists whose principles are invariably consistent and who are really capable (and to become such one must put in a lot of study and amass experience); such people should therefore be specialized, put wholly on this kind of work, and be given the utmost care. Such persons should deliver several lectures a week and be sent to other towns when necessary, and, in general, capable propagandists should make tours of various towns and cities. (Lenin, “A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks,” pp. 242-243)

We do not know whether the propagandists in the opportunists’ circles are capable or not, and whether Lenin’s words apply directly to them. Certainly, however, the need for study circles is a basic point. Yet it appears that the opportunists actually oppose such study groups. The New Voice believes in them and launches them whenever possible. The first work members of the groups read is The State and Revolution, followed by its sequel The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. In this way a thorough grounding in the nature of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat, along with knowledge of the petty-bourgeois distortions of these essential matters, can be acquired.

We would ask the Revolutionary Union to comment on the following incident. A comrade of ours in the south San Francisco Bay Area who had been working with the rank and file militants in his plant decided to invite several coworkers to start such a study group. However, he had too little awareness of the bitter opposition of the RU to Marxist theory, and he casually mentioned his project to an activist in the plant from the RU (the plant has since been abandoned, for practical purposes, by the RU). She objected to the formation of a study group. The people who would be in it, she said, were not ready for it and needed several more months of strictly trade union struggle. She did not understand this heavy emphasis on study groups in general. Why, for example, were the Chinese people being encouraged to move from the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-tung to weird things like Anti-Duhring? Our comrade said he was going to start the study group and invited her into it. Within a few days, as he went around to ask other workers to join the study group, he was told no, they did not have time, because they had been asked to a study group on The State which the RU activist was starting! In other words, the RU avoided and opposed any study group. When it learned that a genuine one was beginning, it moved in with the shadow of a study group; for while The State is a fine talk by Lenin one afternoon, it can in no way substitute for his book The State and Revolution. First openly opposing Marxist-Leninist study groups and then blocking them with fraudulent substitutes – is this not dedicated anti-Marxism-Leninism?

Some persons may question the intensity of polemics against the opportunists. Why not sort out the two lines in a friendlier spirit of seeing which is best for your common aims, they ask. But the opportunists are not putting forward an alternate line for the same goal. Like all opportunists, they avoid putting forward a clear line. They are holding back the movement, and will even go so far as to sabotage its most elementary and essential activities, as this example shows. The opportunists of the Revolutionary Union, the October League and the Guardian are bitter enemies of Marxism-Leninism.