Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

The Struggle for the Party

Two Lines in the Movement

Class Origin of Contradictions in the Movement

According to the October League, the main danger in the movement today is “ultra-leftism.” In an effort to explain the source of this danger the October League writes:

However, within the conditions of life of these students and middle-class revolutionaries lie the very seeds of these ’leftist’ diseases: sectarianism, dogmatism and anarchism.

This is nothing peculiar to the United States today. The middle-class intellectuals have always been the first to take up revolutionary ideas. But their small producer’s mentality developed through a lifetime of isolation from manual labor and social production gives birth to leftist thinking like sectarianism (’I am the vanguard while everyone else is backwards’). (The Call, April 1973, p. 12)

This line which the October League is peddling in great volume these days is a clumsy attempt to sweep away differences of principle between Marxists and opportunists. The OL refers to social origin of its opponents within the movement as if to identify them with the petty bourgeoisie (thus implying that the October League is the spokesman of the proletarian revolutionary line). But the social origin of persons in the movement cannot be taken as a guide to the ideology they speak for–Marxism-Leninism or opportunism. And we find that the OL is continually running into contradictions when it tries to put over this approach. “The middle-class intellectuals have always been the first to take up revolutionary ideas.” This is true; we have seen that the conditions of their lives as contrasted to those of workers in general make it possible for them first to acquire social science–they are brought into contact with a broad fund of information, they have time in their work to draw the conclusions, they read books in greater quantity, etc.

But the October League goes on to say that they have a “small producer’s mentality” which gives birth to leftist thinking. This, too, is a general tendency, although not the only one; the liberalism of most intellectuals is also well known. But the point is that the statement is too general for the use the October League wants to make of it. Why should it not apply, for example, to Marx and Lenin themselves? They were intellectuals; neither held a factory job, did manual labor, or engaged in social production on a large scale. Will the October League say that because of this background, Marx and Lenin were ’leftists” while the October League’s line is the true Marxist-Leninist line, Marx and Lenin to the contrary?!

The difficulties continue. The chairman of the October League is Mike Klonsky. He is an ex-student who held a national office of Students for a Democratic Society. He is responsible for the above quotation and the general line of the October League; perhaps he wrote it personally. Now, the OL does not claim to be deeply rooted in the working class yet. On the contrary, their spokesmen, like those of the Revolutionary Union, are fond of a modest pose of disavowal here, speaking quietly of the efforts of their organization to achieve this still-unreached goal. The question therefore arises: how did this middle-class intellectual, ex-student Mike Klonsky, come to represent the correct line–while all other intellectuals have succumbed to their “isolation from manual labor and social production”? By what magic has Klonsky escaped the debilitating effect of his social origins while other intellectuals with the same origins and social background automatically have a flawed, “leftist” line? Is not Klonsky really the one who is calling himself the vanguard and calling everyone else backward, while he makes this charge against everyone else?

There are disagreements in the movement. Various intellectuals express these disagreements. How, then, are we to decide which line is correct? Can we look at the common factors in the social origins of intellectuals or ex-students to decide these questions? Obviously not. What is common in background cannot explain differences in outlook. In his rush to claim the mantle of the proletariat for himself, Klonsky has tripped himself up. . .and revealed more of his slipshod, incorrect and opportunist thinking.

There was a figure in the Russian movement who espoused a line very similar to the one which now appears in the writings of Mike Klonsky. This writer tried to explain the historical meaning of the internal party struggle in Russia” as a case of the “adaptation of the Marxian intelligentsia to the class movement of the proletariat.” He, too, accused his opponent Lenin of “sectarianism, intellectual individualism, ideological fetishism” simply because he was an intellectual. This figure like Klonsky said, “it is an ’illusion’ to imagine that Menshevism and Bolshevism have struck deep roots in the depths of the proletariat.” And here is the reply Lenin gave to this earlier attempt by one intellectual to avoid principle:

This is a specimen of the sonorous but empty phrases of which our Trotsky is a master. The roots of the divergence between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks lie, not in the ’depths of the proletariat, ’ but in the economic content of the Russian revolution. By ignoring this content [that is, by being bad intellectuals, poor students], Martov and Trotsky deprived themselves of the possibility of understanding the historical meaning of the internal Party struggle in Russia. The crux of the matter is not whether the theoretical formulation of differences have penetrated ’deep’ into this or that stratum of the proletariat, but the fact that the economic conditions of the Revolution of 1905 brought the proletariat into hostile relations with the liberal bourgeoisie.... To speak of the struggle of trends in the Russian revolution and to distribute labels, such as ’sectarianism,’ ’lack of culture,’ etc., and not to utter a word about the fundamental, economic interests of the proletariat, of the liberal bourgeoisie and of the democratic peasantry – is tantamount to stooping to the level of vulgar journalists. (Lenin, “The Historical Meaning of the Internal Party Struggle in Russia, ” p. 500)

Lenin sums up by saying:

A wide gulf separates our view from that of Martov, and in spite of Trotsky’s opinion, this gulf between the views of ’intellectuals’ reflects the gulf which in fact existed at the end of 1905 between the classes, namely, between the revolutionary, fighting proletariat and the treacherous bourgeoisie. (Ibid., p. 510)

Which line do you defend – the line of proletarian revolution or the opportunist line? This is the test which must be applied to what anyone says. It is silly and contradictory for one intellectual to point solely to the social origins of others, especially when they share common origins, e.g., as ex-students. But for the anti-party opportunists, such a ploy has the advantage, they hope, that clarity on matters of principle can be avoided.

The October League tried to dress up its opportunist analysis with a quotation from Stalin. It quoted Stalin: “I think that the proletariat, as a class, can be divided into three strata.” The OL then emphasized the second stratum, consisting of newcomers from several non-proletarian groups–the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie (small businessmen, artisans, etc.), and the intelligentsia. “This stratum constitutes the most favorable soil for all sorts of anarchist, semi-anarchist and ’ultra-Left’ groups.” (Stalin, “The Seventh Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International,” pp. 212-213)

Triumphantly, the October League concludes, “This in general describes the class origins of this ’leftism,’” (The Call, April 1973, p. 13) However, the OL concluded a bit too soon. It quoted out of context and did not give the essence of what Stalin said. Stalin discussed both the basic force which was attacking the proletariat–bourgeois ideology – and the channels through which it infiltrated into the proletariat.

What are these circumstances?

They are, firstly, the pressure exerted by the bourgeoisie and bourgeois ideology on the proletariat and its party in the conditions of the class struggle–a pressure to which the least stable strata of the proletariat, and, hence, the least stable strata of the proletarian party, not infrequently succumb. It must not be thought that the proletariat is completely isolated from society, that it stands outside society. The proletariat is a part of society, connected with its diverse strata by numerous threads.... The pressure of the bourgeoisie and its ideology on the proletariat and its party finds expression in the fact that bourgeois ideas, manners, customs and sentiments not infrequently penetrate the proletariat and its party through definite strata of the proletariat that are in one way or another connected with bourgeois society. (Stalin, p. 212)

Why does the proletariat not proceed directly and immediately to socialism? In order to do this, it is necessary to know what steps to take. But the bourgeoisie is in charge of the ideological apparatus of capitalist society. Every member of the proletariat is surrounded by the education he is given as he grows up in bourgeois schools, by the newspapers and books and magazines he reads, by the staples of everyday conversation current in society, etc, etc. We must sort out facts and truth from lies and illogical reasoning.

The effort to do this in a capitalist society gives rise to contradictions within the movement – this, Stalin tells us, is the basic fact. Then he illustrates the particular types of bourgeois ideology which enter the proletariat more easily through various strata. Of all this there is not a word in the quotations of the October League.

But there is still more we can learn from Stalin about ultra-leftism. For of ultra-leftism and outright opportunism, Stalin says:

Notwithstanding their superficial difference, these last two strata of the working class constitute a more or less common nutritive medium for opportunism in general-open opportunism, when the sentiments of the labor aristocracy gain the upper hand, and opportunism camouflaged with ’Left’ phrases, when the sentiments of the semi-middle-class strata of the working class which have not yet completely broken with the petty-bourgeois environment gain the upper hand. (Ibid., p. 213)

If the ’ultra-Lefts’ stand for revolution only because they expect the victory of the revolution the very next day, then obviously they must fall into despair and be disillusioned in the revolution if the revolution is delayed, if the revolution is not victorious the very next day. (Ibid.)

Ultra-leftism is merely opportunism with a cover, opportunism hiding its despair with super-revolutionary phrases that are merely excuses for abandoning the proletarian revolutionary struggle. Stalin was speaking about Trotsky. A similar situation exists today. Many students participated in the antiwar and antiracist movements of the 1960’s. But if their world outlook was not transformed, if they remained with the petty bourgeois ideology we are all taught in capitalist society, then they became disillusioned in the revolution when it was delayed, when the student movement subsided instead of sparking ever higher crests of a general popular movement. The October League and Klonsky are appealing to this despair with their opportunist line. They are counseling reformist work, bowing to spontaneity, and economism while “waiting for things to pick up.” In this way they prevent the formation of a genuine communist party at this time.

For these opportunist leaders, their anti-Marxist-Leninist activity today is in full conformity with their previous activity in the days of the strong student movement. Let us look not merely at the social origins of the anti-party opportunists but at the line they peddled a few years ago. Mike Klonsky, now chairman of the October League, was a national officer of SDS. Robert Avakian, a leader of the Revolutionary Union today, was a leader of the RU which at the time was essentially a part of the student movement and SDS. What line did they pursue in SDS? They pursued the line of opposing a turn to the working class; they opposed the strategy of the worker-student alliance. In those days they were the petty-bourgeois ultraleftists who rejected a worker-student alliance, branding it as “economism” and other epithets implying that it was a Right error. They espoused instead the “revolutionary youth movement,” a form of petty-bourgeois rebellion which was at once anti-capitalist and anti-working class in sentiment. The history of SDS has been distorted greatly, and in particular the cause of the demise of that organization has been buried beneath a series of self-protective recriminations. But everyone who participated in SDS in the late 1960’s agrees that a climactic struggle developed between the “revolutionary youth movement” tendency and the worker-student alliance line, and that Mike Klonsky and Bob Avakian were prominent leaders in the revolutionary youth movement wing. (See, for example, Alan Adelson, SDS, New York, Scribners, 1972.)

If we look at the careers of these men in class terms, we find that they spoke for petty-bourgeois ideology then and they speak for petty-bourgeois opportunism and Menshevism today. In SDS they were anti-working class; today, they wish to speak as spokesmen of the workers but still with their liberal line. Accordingly, they advocate economism for the working class, and they oppose the formation of a genuine communist party. It is not the social origin of these persons that is crucial; the continuity between their past and their present activities is found in their unchanged petty-bourgeois ideology. Whether ultra-leftist, anarchist, liberal, economist, or reformist at any given moment, on any given question, this has been their continuing role: they represent bourgeois ideology in the communist movement.

Whether or not these individuals will ever change cannot be predicted, and it is not the main question. In any case, the basic source of contradictions within the party will continue to be the pressure of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois attractions upon weak individuals; only continual struggle against these can preserve the dominance of the proletarian revolutionary line. Today, the issue that faces the movement is the formation of a genuine communist party. We find two lines, the Marxist-Leninist versus the anti-party opportunist, in struggle. Tomorrow, another issue will arise; bourgeois ideology will persist for a long time.

But progress will be made – by seeking out the matters of principle which are at stake, so that the revolutionary communist movement may know clearly what needs to be done and then do it.