Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The League for Proletarian Revolution

The Revolutionary Union’s “New Turn”


First Published: in the pamphlet, Which Side Are You On?, June 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


It is our fortune that the Revolutionary Union (RU), in its articles in the April and May, 1974, issues of Revolution (“V. I. Lenin” and “Build the New Party to Lead the Masses”) has provided us with the opportunity to clarify the two-line struggle within the communist movement – the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and opportunism reflected specifically in the struggle to build a new communist party versus the bowing to the spontaneous mass movement. And it is equally fortunate that communists have access to the invaluable knowledge of Lenin’s fight, against opportunist groups just like the RU, clearly summarized in What Is To Be Done? The article on Lenin states:

. . . it’s more important than ever to be totally clear about the essence of what we inherit from Lenin.

We absolutely agree! In What Is To Be Done?, Lenin, for the first time, exposed the ideological roots of opportunism, showing how they consisted in worship of the spontaneous working class movement and the belittling of the role of socialist consciousness; he showed the importance of theory, and of the party as a leading force for the spontaneous movement; he uncovered the ideological foundations of a party; in short, Lenin’s great work meant a complete ideological defeat for Economism, for the ideology of opportunism.

But the RU has neither inherited, nor do they defend, Leninism.

How did Lenin characterize opportunism?

When we speak of fighting opportunism, we must never forget a feature that is characteristic of present-day opportunism in every sphere, namely, its vagueness, diffuseness, elusiveness. An opportunist, by his very nature, will always evade formulating an issue clearly and decisively, he will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to ’agree’ with both and to reduce his differences of opinion to petty amendments, doubts, good and pious suggestions, and so on. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 1904)

They take Lenin’s famous quote “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” And here’s how the RU improvises on it:

But he also emphasized that there could be no revolutionary theory without ’the real moving force of history – the revolutionary struggle of classes’.

The RU abstracts the latter quote from an entirely different article, “More on the Duma Ministry” (Collected Works, Vol. II, p. 79), which itself is taken from a larger sentence which reads:

What is the main flaw in all these opportunist arguments? It is that in fact they substitute the bourgeois theory of ’united’, ’social’ progress for the socialist theory of the class struggle as the only real driving force of history. According to the theory of socialism, i.e. of Marxism ... the real driving force of history is the revolutionary class struggle; reforms are a subsidiary produce of this struggle . . .

What is Lenin’s point? It is that theory is based on the objective class struggle, the motive force of history. And it is from this that we must draw our theory. The RU is saying nothing more than “what even schoolboys know” – that there must be a reality in order for it to be analyzed.

Stalin addressed himself to the same kind of opportunists:

. . . I have read Plekhanov ’s articles in which he analyses What Is To Be Done? This man has either gone quite off his head, or else is moved by hatred and enmity. I think both causes operate. I think that Plekhanov has fallen behind the new problems. He imagines he has the old opponents before him, and he goes on repeating in the old way: “social consciousness is determined by social being,” “ideas do not drop from the skies.” As if Lenin said that Marx’s socialism would have been possible under slavery and serfdom. Even schoolboys know now that “ideas do not drop from the skies.” The point is, however, that we are now faced with quite a different issue. We assimilated this general formula long ago and the time has now come to analyze this general problem. What interests us now is how separate ideas are worked up into a system of ideas (the theory of socialism), how separate ideas, and hints of ideas, link up into one harmonious system – the theory of socialism, and who works and links them up. Do the masses give their leaders a program and the principles underlying the program, or do the leaders give these to the masses?

If the masses themselves and their spontaneous movement give us the theory of socialism, then there is no need to take the trouble to safeguard the masses from the pernicious influence of revisionism, terrorism, Zubatovism and anarchism: “the spontaneous movement engenders socialism from itself.” If the spontaneous movement does not engender the theory of socialism from itself (don’t forget that Lenin is discussing the theory of socialism), then the latter is engendered outside of the spontaneous movement, from the observations and study of the spontaneous movement by men who are equipped with up-to-date knowledge. Hence, the theory of socialism is worked out “quite independently of the growth of the spontaneous movement,” in spite of that movement in fact, and is then introduced into that movement “from outside”, correcting it in conformity with its content, i.e., in conformity with the objective requirements of the proletarian class struggle.

The conclusion (practical deduction) to be drawn from this is as follows; we must raise the proletariat to a consciousness of its true class interests, to a consciousness of the socialist ideal, and not break this ideal up into small change, or adjust it to the spontaneous movement.

We quote at length from Stalin’s letter because it so clearly sums up what the opportunists wish to ignore: theory is developed independently from the spontaneous movement in accordance with the objective laws of the class struggle. What the RU doesn’t want to do, however, is draw any theory from the class struggle. Why else would they need to rewrite Lenin?

Returning to Lenin’s emphasis on theory, here is what he said, quoted accurately:

Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This thought cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.

It was precisely in opposition to the belittling of the importance of consciousness, of socialist theory, to the negation of the true significance of theory that Lenin was speaking. What makes the RU’s distortions seem purposeful is their deliberate quoting out of context, refusal to state sources, and the cutting up of quotes to fit their own opportunist ideas, ideas that are the very subject of Lenin’s criticism and hatred.

It is impossible to understand the significance of the differences between Lenin and the opportunists without reference to the party-building history, which the RU sadly reduces to dates and events. What was the context in which Lenin was writing? The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which Lenin formed in 1895, had marked a new stage in the Russian movement the start of the unity of Marxism with the working class movement. The League was the embryo of a revolutionary proletarian party in Russia; its formation being followed by that of Marxist organizations in most industrial centers. In 1898, the first attempt was made to unite these organizations, which were scattered ideologically and organizationally throughout Russia, into one centralized, revolutionary political party of the proletariat. The Economists were the principal opponents of the creation of such a party, and it was against them that Lenin directed his main blows. This important struggle is summed up in What Is To Be Done?

True to opportunism, the RU does not come straight out and oppose the need for a party. Instead they veil their attacks by leaving out this important pre-party history and reducing the struggle between Lenin and the Economists to wanting a party with members “who acted simply as ’trade union secretaries’ instead of ’tribunes of the people’ saying that the tasks of communists was to take up every struggle against oppression...” As with the example of revolutionary theory, the RU refused to state the difference between communist tasks and reform work, refuses to state what is really primary, namely, to bring political consciousness to the workers and build a communist party. Why? Because what the RU really wants is a party based on a mass reform movement.

The “Economists” no longer dared openly to contest the need for a political party of the working class. But they considered that it should not be the guiding force of the working class movement, that it should not interfere in the spontaneous movement of the working class, let alone direct it, but that it should follow in the wake of this movement, study it and draw lessons from it. (History of the CPSU (B), p.35)

How else can we account for RU’s distortion of Lenin, who was so clear on the importance of theory and the need for a revolutionary party:

The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory. (What Is To Be Done?)

Listen to how the RU tries to cover their opportunism by admitting the need for a party in the most vague, diffuse, and elusive terms:

Lenin’s battle for the party was against those who denied that the real aim of the masses’ struggles all through history has been for their own emancipation, and that Marxism is the ideology of the proletariat, born in struggle. He fought those who simply ’declared’ the party in name, and showed how a real advanced, organized detachment of the working class had to be created through struggle.

And:

This party was not just a great idea born from Lenin’s head. It developed in close connection with the mass movement and the fight against opportunism to develop Marxism to serve the mass movement.

Having distorted Lenin to justify their anti-party views, the RU is now trying to give the appearance that Lenin too would oppose the building of a party now. The fact is that Lenin’s opponents called him a dogmatist and over and over said that he was overemphasizing the role of consciousness. We hear this same cry from the RU today, who understands Marxism as an encyclopedia on the mass movement rather than as a scientific tool to overthrow class society.

Let us briefly summarize a few more examples of how the RU distorts Lenin.

(1) “Lenin’s main contribution ... came from thoroughly understanding the works of Marx and Engels, from carefully examining the concrete conditions of his day, and from a great ability to learn from the people”. We hear once again the view that theory must slavishly follow and never step ahead of the workers or the movement. Does this bear any resemblance to the materialist theory of knowledge? To hold that knowledge can stop at the lower, perceptual stage, is one error. But the RU does worse. They would have us believe that Lenin failed to transform perceptual knowledge into rational knowledge, and apply the knowledge of the laws of the objective world to change the world.

(2) “He declared that the ’flesh and blood’ of Marxism was that the political struggle and the economic struggle had to be welded ’into one integral whole’ and that the final aim was the overthrow of the czarist autocracy and all forms of exploitation and oppression”. First, the RU never makes clear how Lenin’s interpretation of political and economic struggle differed from the Economists’ interpretation. This is no minor point, for it was around this very question that clear lines were drawn. It was the economists who used phrases like linking the economic struggle with the political, raising the economic to the level of politics, etc. It was Lenin who stated that politics has to be primary, politics meaning the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Second, the overthrow of the czarist autocracy was not the final aim, but the minimum programme of the RSDLP at the Second Congress in 1903 (History of the CPSU(B), p.41), a task to be achieved before the overthrow of the capitalist system. The RU wishes to make all political tasks purely Utopian and relegate them to one finale when all forms of oppression will ’someday’ be ended (we dare not ask the RU when and by whom). Third, because of the RU’s practice of borrowing at random bits and pieces, we cannot determine the original quote from Lenin, or the context in which it was written. This is true throughout the entire article. The RUís intention is none other than to confuse people. Lenin summed it up well:

In falsifying Marxism in opportunist fashion, the substitution of eclecticism for dialectics is the easiest way of deceiving the masses; it gives an illusory satisfaction; it seems to take into account all sides of the process, all tendencies of development, all the conflicting influences, and so forth, whereas in reality it presents no integral and revolutionary conception of the process of social development at all. (The State and Revolution, 1917)

(3) “. . .the root of all revisionism, no matter what form it takes, is ’lack of faith in the masses, fear of their independence, trepidation before their revolutionary energy instead of thorough and unstinting support for it’”. The RU makes it appear that Lenin says that the root of revisionism is lack of faith in the masses. Lenin’s quote about lack of faith in the masses is from “One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution” written in 1917. Speaking of the vacillation of the Socialist Revolutionaries who had control over the Soviets and who wished to pass up the opportunity to seize state power so as to bargain with the bourgeoisie, Lenin said:

Lack of faith in the masses, fear of their independence, trepidation before their revolutionary energy instead of thorough and unstinting support for it – this is where the S.R. and Menshevik leaders have sinned most of all. This is where we find one of the deepest roots of their indecision, their vacillation . . . (Collected Works, Vol. XXV, p.370)

The roots of opportunism and revisionism have been described by Lenin; the capitalist system and bourgeois policy developed a petty-bourgeois ideology among many leaders of the working class movement which led to a vulgarization of Marxism-Leninism. One result of opportunist and revisionist thinking is a lack of faith in the masses, but the roots of revisionism and opportunism have a material basis. The RU is simply demonstrating once again its slavishness to the mass movement; its confusion between spearheads and tail-feathers. Eventually, like the old economists, the RU will graduate from having infinite faith in a mass movement which lacks communist consciousness, to having no faith in a mass movement when it has communist consciousness.

Having “prepared public opinion” by distorting Lenin almost beyond recognition, the RU proceeded to announce in the very next issue what they consider to be a new discovery: the objective conditions for building a party have just come into being.

The point is that different forces have come to Marxism-Leninism from different directions and have gone to the working class and masses on that basis. In the course of this, practice has been accumulated, ideological struggle has been carried on and different tendencies have developed. So now it has become possible – in fact, it has become crucial – for the revolutionary forces to sum up these developments more systematically, conduct ideological struggle on that basis on a higher level and in a more concentrated way, and unite all who can be united around a Marxist-Leninist line and Programme, and in this way form the Party. (p.9)

What the RU is saying is that the objective conditions for the party have just come into being. But we know that the objective conditions for the party depend on the historical experience of the proletariat, which means that they are here and have been here for a long time. What doesn’t exist are the subjective conditions, the presence of adequately trained leaders. The RU is doing what the Economists of Lenin’s time did in a far more sophisticated way: they are shifting the blame for the relative backwardness of the communist movement upon the “absence of conditions” rather than honestly recognizing that the unpreparedness and shortcomings of the communists are principal. It is not, as the RU would have us believe, that the masses have been unprepared or that they have not had sufficient experience to engage in revolutionary struggle. This is nothing more than the theory of spontaneity, which the RU clings to as a justification for their reformist practice.

What does the RU say about the communist movement and the mass movement?

It is important for all of us to recognize that both the communist movement and the mass movement in the US have now come to an end of a period in their development, and both now stand at crucial crossroads. (p.1)

Let us examine this “new period” with respect to the communist movement. The RU argues that the old period was “characterized by the development of separate collectives and organizations working in relative isolation from one another.” The new period is one “in which the various revolutionary forces and individuals must come together to form a single vanguard communist party that can lead the working class and the masses of people in general”. It isn’t bad enough that the RU belittles the experience of the masses. Here they turn and belittle the work of genuine communists. Surely the RU knows that communists have, for a long time, recognized the need to form a party and have actively and seriously worked towards that aim. They must have known it, because they have consistently and actively attacked those forces. Perhaps they have just realized that the lack of a party “has been a serious obstacle to the development of the struggle”. But we don’t think so. What they may have realized is that the development of a party will be a serious obstacle to them!

In Red Papers 1 the RU “stressed the need for establishing the party as soon as possible” but “at the same time we did not consider building the party the central task at that time, and that has been the case until now.” What reason do they give for not making it central then, but crucial now?

A primary reason for this is that the CPUSA deserted to the camp of revisionism and imperialism, depriving the mass struggle of the leadership of a genuine communist party, a single general staff capable of uniting these struggles, systematizing the revolutionary ideas among the people and basing struggle firmly on the working class. (p.9)

Just imagine! the RU believes that the CPUSA just deserted the proletariat! In fact, the struggle to build a new party, as opposed to reconstituting the old CPUSA, has existed since the early sixties, since the split in the international communist movement. Since it took the RU all these years to acknowledge the death of the CPUSA as a revolutionary party, shouldn’t they at least spend a few years in mourning? What else do they say about the communist movement and its new period. They tell us that it is possible for the communist movement to sum up its accumulated practice and engage in ideological struggle and unite into a party. This is worse than a shortsighted view of history. The proletariat has had vast and sufficient practice for years. They have been ready and able to comprehend a scientific analysis of capitalism for years. The summation of that experience has been possible for years, if only those who call themselves communists would practice Marxism and not revisionism. The RU refuses to believe that history began before they emerged, and they continue to think that the tasks and abilities of communists emerged on the basis of their deep roots in the masses. Fortunately for us, history will not stop with or for the RU!

It is clear that the RU is out of touch with, history and the urgent tasks it presents us with. Still, they keep repeating the sane basic truths known to common sense but apparently new to the RU:

Reality is move complicated than a book, class struggle does not develop in a straight line or as quickly as all of us would like. Revolution, it turns out, will not be made in a day.

We would like to thank the RU for its insight. And we would like to ask the RU: is this why you need Marxism-Leninism, to explain such drivel to the masses?

It is clear that ail their reasoning about the new period and the communist movement rests on their view that the mass movement is also entering a new period.

Among the masses, experience has been accumulated through struggle pointing to the fact that only so much can be gained through spontaneous struggles isolated from other struggles, and without a unified center to lead, unite and advance them. (p.9)

What Is To Be Done?, clearly summarizes the lessons of the trade union movement and the relation between consciousness and spontaneity. No revolutionary should be confused about the conclusion; Marxist-Leninist ideology developed independently of the spontaneous struggles of the working class; by itself the workers’ movement can develop only trade union consciousness. Further, the spontaneous struggles of the working class will never become genuine “class struggle” until led by a strong organization of revolutionaries, which must inject revolutionary consciousness into the working class movement and divert it from its spontaneous gravitation towards reforms and subordination to the bourgeoisie. What accumulated experience of the masses has pointed to these conclusions? Aren’t these principles of Marxism which the RU should have learned simply by studying What Is To Be Done? Did the RU learn these ideas from the masses? This is tantamount to saying that, the theory of consciousness, like consciousness itself, is learned from the masses. And this is precisely what the RU believes. If the case were otherwise, the RU would have concluded that what the masses are lacking are scientific socialism and revolutionary practice. We would have to ask the RU, do you believe that the masses understood the necessity of a communist party in the 1920’s and the 1930’s but then, somewhere along the line, the masses “forgot” the experience which lead them to that conclusion in the first place? Isn’t this to say that the lack of a communist party is the fault of the masses?

As though the RU hasn’t thrown up enough barriers to the formation of a party, they conclude their article with an extreme vulgarization of the party-building movement:

There has been a wrong line in this country for several years that building the party can and should be done in isolation from the mass struggles, that in fact mass struggle is useless and ’economist’ – no advances can be made – until the party is created. (p.9)

We ask the RU: who has really put forth such a view? Who is really isolated from the masses? It is precisely the opportunists who isolate communism from the masses. We know that spontaneous struggles are not useless; they exist and recur independent of communism. They are an embryo of consciousness. The question we are faced with is what is the correct relation of communists to these struggles. We have answered this question more than once and we have never suggested that building the party will be done in isolation from the masses. We say that the next real advance of the spontaneous movement, an advance towards revolution, depends on the formation of a new communist party. We ask, what advances do you think will be made without such a party?

No, we won’t “smirk and say that the RU has finally seen the error of its ways”. (As if we were saying that the party “would have been possible under slavery and serfdom”). We say that the RU has not learned the errors and continues to belittle the role of theory and the task of communists. They will continue to remain isolated from everything except opportunism; we have no illusion about the RU seeing the error of its ways. In fact, in the same issue the RU continues its struggle against the formation of a new party in its critique of Charles Loren’s book, The Struggle for the Party. Responding to Loren’s analysis of RU’s opportunist practice in a Bay area Laborer’s Caucus, RU states its own side:

The caucus was running a slate for union office and certain dogmatists within the caucus, affiliated with the ’Communist League’, insisted on putting out a lot of sectarian nonsense, including a call for the creation of a new vanguard party, in the leaflets supporting this slate. Several members of the caucus objected to this, feeling that instead, leaflets should emphasize the issues of concern to the mass of workers in the union. The RU shared this criticism. (p.19)

Could there be a better statement of RU’s opportunism, of how they look upon communist demands as dogmatic and sectarian! How they try at every opportunity to keep communism from reaching the workers! The more ammunition they give us, the sooner will the working class have its communist party, free from the dead weight of opportunism!