Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

New Pamphlet Parrots Old Opportunism

Paper Party or Class Vanguard?

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The question of forming the new Communist Party in the U.S. has become urgent because of the development of the mass movement and the communist movement in this country over the past several years. At this point, several different lines have developed on the question of how to build this Party, and what is the relationship of Party-building to building the mass movement.

In another article in this issue of REVOLUTION, we begin a series presenting our views on this general question. But it is important to deal with a particular pamphlet, The Struggle for the Party, Two Lines in the Movement, by a Charles Loren.

In and of itself, this pamphlet says nothing new and is not especially significant; it is one of a number of celebrations of bourgeois intellectualism, in the guise of Marxism, which are periodically produced by alienated petty bourgeois authors, looking for a way to join, even lead the communist movement without remolding their world outlook. But as Mao Tse-tung says of this type, they “always seek large audiences” and to a degree Loren has succeeded, because his pamphlet has been promoted by certain forces in the communist movement as a correct summation of the last few years of this movement and a correct guide for its future development.

It is not. According to Loren, the central and sole task of communists has always been to create a new Communist Party by conducting polemics in isolation from the mass movement. For Loren, the only real “class struggle” that matters is ideological struggle within the communist movement.

Loren says that Party-building has been obstructed by the common opposition of the “opportunists”– the RU, October League (OL) and the Guardian, First off, the RU has very sharp differences with the OL & Guardian line (about which more later). But the basic RU position on Party-building which Loren attacks is that in order to lay the basis for forming the Party, the various Marxist-Leninist forces that have developed in opposition to the revisionist CP. USA had to link themselves with the mass movement, especially the struggle of the working class. That it was essential to begin the process of merging communism with this movement, to sum up this experience, and on that basis to conduct ideological struggle to determine the correct line and develop a programme for the mass movement that could serve as the basis of unity for a genuine new Communist Party.

The RU line was developed exactly in opposition to the line that the Party could be formed simply by conducting propaganda, organizing study groups and carrying on polemics, in isolation from the practical struggles of the masses. It is true that in raising this correct line, the RU had a tendency in the past to carry it too far, almost to put the formation of the Party into the distant future, and not to pay enough attention to Party-building work, linked with the mass movement.

But this was an excess made in opposing an incorrect line that isolated communists from the masses, and this excess does not at all change the fact that under our concrete conditions in the past few years, communists had to sink some roots in the working class and gain some experience in applying communism to the mass movement, before forming the Party could be the central task.

Going to the Masses

According to Loren, this meant “worshipping spontaneity,” degrading the communist movement to the level of the spontaneous mass movement and tailing in its wake.

The “opportunists,” Loren says, insist that communists must “go to the masses.” But why go there, he asks, since all we’ll find is bourgeois ideology– “spontaneity.”

The “opportunists,” says Loren, “tell us to find socialism in the workers movement,” while the true Marxist-Leninists like Loren know that ”Lenin spoke of taking socialism to the workers’ movement.” (p. 9)

Loren has set up a false argument here. The point is that genuine Marxist-Leninists know that by taking communism to the workers movement and other mass struggles, the communists will find the ways to apply it concretely, deepen their own grasp of it, and raise the consciousness of the masses at the same time. But Loren says that communists cannot do that now, were wrong to do it in the past, because they have not “found” communism yet.

Loren is actually tailing several years behind the development of the communist movement in this country. The situation in the country today is not that there is nobody–except Loren and maybe a few of his friends–who has studied Marxism-Leninism; the fact is that several different forces have developed, all stating that they base themselves on Marxism-Leninism, but putting forward different lines on what Marxism-Leninism means as concretely applied to the U.S.

Loren might have made a contribution, by negative example at least, to the struggle for unity around a correct line in the communist movement, if he had made a systematic presentation of his views in opposition to other lines in the movement on some of the crucial questions at issue–the national question, strategy for the workers’ movement, how to build the united front, and so on. This is not to say that Loren has no line on these questions, or that it does not show through in his pamphlet, although he says almost nothing about these crucial questions.

PL Revisited

He holds an opportunist line, essentially the line held by PL even before it openly opposed itself to Mao Tsetung Thought. And contrary to Loren’s claim that the RU fears ideological struggle and polemics, the RU has, as Loren knows, carried out considerable ideological struggle and polemics to expose this very line.

The root of Loren’s opportunism, as it shows itself in his pamphlet, is the separation of theory from practice. Loren is essentially an idealist, who fails to understand the fundamental truth that it is the struggle of the masses of people that propels society forward, and is the source of all correct ideas.

For example, he writes that “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.” (p. 47).

Besides lumping factory workers with office workers, Loren makes a more serious error here–he only presents half the truth, only one side of a contradiction. It is true that the bourgeoisie does its best to deprive workers of “broad social knowledge,” and in particular to keep them from learning Marxism, the science of revolution, and that work is petty and repetitive and alienated under capitalism.

But it is also true that the experience of workers, especially workers in large-scale industry, in production and in the class struggle is the basis for Marxism, and is also the reason that workers have the greatest potential to grasp Marxism. This is why Marxism is the ideology of the proletariat, and not of any other class.

Loren stresses the fact that it is in general the intellectuals who first grasp Marxism and who must introduce it to the working class. This is true, but it does not mean that the role of communists is simply to act as a propaganda sect, as Loren seems to think. Loren emphasizes the fact that “Marx was a Ph.D.; Lenin got a law degree; Mao went to Peking University.” (p. 46). This is true as well, but what is much more important is that, as Mao says, “the reason why Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin could work out their theories was mainly that they took part in the practice of class struggle and the scientific experimentation of their time.”

Learn from the Masses

Yes, the communists must bring communism to the workers, from “outside” their day to day straggle. But again, this is only half the picture. Communists must also learn from the masses, and this is not just a cute phrase, but the dividing line between whether we succeed in our work or not. The workers have a wealth of experience both in production and in waging class struggle, and without assimilating all that is correct in this, the communists can never apply Marxism-Leninism correctly or develop correct policies to lead the mass movement to the revolutionary goal.

The experience and knowledge of the masses of people–especially the industrial proletariat–are the raw materials of all correct lines. Marxism-Leninism, the scientific summation of the past experience of the masses in these struggles, is the machinery which processes these raw materials into correct lines and policies. And this is an endless process, an upward spiral, from practice to theory, back to practice, and on and on. Does Mr. Loren know how to produce steel, or cars, or grow food? Does he have any knowledge about organizing and leading a strike, or a demonstrationist alone an insurrection?

If he does not, that is no crime. No one is “born” with such knowledge. His crime is that he either thinks it is not important to get this knowledge, or he thinks he can get it without learning from the masses of working people and merely through his role as “commentator” on their practical struggles. Without this knowledge, it will be impossible to overthrow the old system and to build the new one. And it is exactly by applying Marxism to summing up the collective experience of the masses of people that this knowledge, and the concrete understanding of how to make socialist revolution can and must be acquired.

In order to do this, communists always keep in mind, as Mao Tsetung emphasizes, ”The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.”

“Weak” vs. “Strong”

Loren not only has an idealist and elitist view of the relationship between the communists and the masses, but in his mind there are superior and inferior people, including within the communist movement. His explanation of why there is struggle between bourgeois and proletarian ideology within the Party is “the pressure of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois attractions upon weak individuals.” (p. 80, our emphasis). The two-line struggle in the Party is thus reduced to a struggle between “weak” and “strong” individuals.

In fact, bourgeois ideology exerts an influence on all members of the Party, because they live in class society and not in some ideal world above it. True, the Party must have leadership, and those selected for leadership are the comrades with the best grasp of the correct line and how to apply it to developing the overall revolutionary struggle.

But the requirements of leadership do tend to isolate leaders of the Party from production and the practical day-to-day struggle of the masses. This contradiction and the influence of bourgeois ideology in the Party generally, can be overcome only by involving the leaders in production and practical struggle as much as possible, but more than that by criticism and self-criticism and ideological struggle throughout the Party for a correct line, and the closest linking of the Party with the masses.

Idealism and elitism also characterize Loren’s line on how to build the new Party. The most important step, he says, is to draw together “a nucleus of defenders of the proletarian revolutionary line.” This “nucleus” must break the “hegemony” of the “opportunists” in order to form the Party, according to Loren. (See the section, “How Shall We Build the Party?”)

But just what is the proletarian line on the burning questions of the U.S. revolutionary movement today? What will be the programme of such a Party, and how will this programme be developed? On this, Loren has very little to say. Apparently, he thinks that he and other ”strong individuals” will be able to suck the correct line and programme out of their thumbs, since he insists that they must form the Party before they “go to the masses.”

And let’s look at his polemics against the “opportunists.” He lumps the RU, OL and Guardian all together and accuses them all of economism and right opportunism generally. This is certainly a strong tendency in the OL today, and was clearly the case with the OL in the summer of ’73, when Loren wrote his pamphlet. Loren cites some examples of this, from the OL newspaper, The Call. And these same rightist tendencies are also certainly reflected in the Guardian, which is, to say the least, very closely aligned with the OL at this point.

OL’s Rightist Tendency

But to lump the RU with the OL is ridiculous. It is very obvious now, and was already obvious last summer, that the RU and the OL have very serious differences, centering around the rightist trend in the OL–its tailing behind trade union officials in the workers’ movement (Arnold Miller of the miners’ union, for example) and reducing the working class struggle to trade unionism; its promotion of petty bourgeois ideology in the women’s movement; its tendency to rely on “liberal” politicians, to reduce the mass movement to a “pressure group” dependent on the ruling class; and to unite with opportunists of all stripes to obstruct the development of revolutionary struggle and revolutionary consciousness in the mass movement.

But Loren does not combat OL’s rightist tendency with a “proletarian revolutionary line.” He uses OL’s rightism as a cover for his own “ultra-left,” sectarian and dogmatic position. In fact, these lines are the flip side of each other, and have in common that they both fail to rely on the masses and to raise their consciousness, in the course of mass struggle, by combining communism with this mass movement.

The OL opposes this from the right – by in fact tailing behind bourgeois ideology and opposing any independent communist line in the mass movement. Loren does it from the “left” – by attacking and belittling the struggles of the people, while preaching from the sidelines.

The unity between these right and “left” lines–and “left” opportunism is “left” only in form; in essence it is rightist–is shown in the development of the October League. Two years ago, OL held basically the same line on Party-building as Loren does now–communists must limit their activity to “propaganda to the advanced workers,” because engaging in the mass movement is economism and “bowing to spontaneity.” But instead of really correcting this erroneous line and conducting revolutionary work in the mass movement, the OL has flipped over to the right-wing and now conducts essentially reformist work to hold back the mass movement.

As for Loren’s “proof” of the RU’s right opportunism and economism, there is very little, except the fact that the RU insists that Party-building must be linked with building the mass struggle. He does cite an example from a laborers’ caucus in the Bay Area, where a caucus member was responsible for a leaflet criticizing other forces in the caucus for putting forward slogans too “left” for the present struggle. Loren calls this “almost a textbook clear example” of economism. But he neglects to inform his readers of what were the terms of the struggle in that caucus, what particular slogans were objected to – in other words, what was the condition, time and place involved.

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, the leaflets should emphasize the issues of concern to the mass of workers in the union. The RU shared this criticism.

Propaganda about the need for the Party should certainly be conducted by communists, as their independent line, but this just as certainly should not be made the basis of unity for a rank and file workers’ organization. Loren neglects to mention any of this, no doubt, because he is promoting the same kind of dogmatist and sectarian line that was pushed in that caucus and which succeeded in isolating it from the mass of workers in the union, who were looking for leadership in how to fight both the employers and the corrupt union leadership.

Loren’s main attack on the RU, however, centers around the anti-war movement, and it is here that Loren’s own opportunism really hangs out. He claims that the RU did not bring forward a communist analysis of this war, showing how it was the result of imperialism, and that to eliminate war it is necessary to eliminate imperialism.

Further, he claims the RU did not expose the role of the CP and the Trotskyites (SWP) in the anti-war movement, their collaboration with the ruling class, and their promotion of bourgeois pacifism and bourgeois ideology generally. Instead, says Loren, the RU merely jockeyed with the CP and the SWP for power within the “reformist” anti-war movement.

None of this is true. As just one example of how Loren completely ignores and/or distorts reality, we only have to point to the first three issues of Revolution (Feb., March, April, 1973), which make all the points Loren attacks the RU for not raising.

We Plead Guilty!

Several of these articles were summing up different demonstrations, in which the RU and others mobilized thousands of working people around an anti-imperialist line, and opposed and exposed the treacherous role of the CP and SWP in collaborating with the ruling class-and in putting forward a line in opposition to the struggles of the Indochinese peoples.

The RU pleads guilty to Loren’s charge that we took part in mass anti-war rallies, even in cases where the CP and Trots were also involved, and where the RU did not have a speaker. We took part exactly in order to unite with the thousands of people who had joined the struggle against U.S. aggression and, through leaflets, slogans, etc. to bring a revolutionary line to that struggle, in opposition to the pro-imperialist line of the CP, SWP and others. It is our duty as communists to do this, and not to stand on the sidelines, just as it is our duty to bring forward the revolutionary line and not to tail behind bourgeois ideology in these struggles.

Loren accuses the RU of conducting “debates about how to serve the Vietnamese,” and for fighting (against SWP) for the position that anti-war rallies should support and not attack the peace proposals of the Vietnamese. Again, we plead guilty, but we also point out that Loren is trying to cover the fact that he upholds as essentially correct the line of Progressive Labor Party, which scabbed on the Vietnamese people’s struggles, called Ho Chi Minh a “traitor” to the Vietnamese people and the people of the world, denounced the Vietnamese for negotiating at all, and declared that the Vietnamese people’s struggle was reactionary because it was for national liberation and not immediately for socialism.

This was PL’s line well before 1971, during the period when, according to Loren, “PL followed what was overall a correct path.” (p. 43). Perhaps this is why Loren does not think it was worthwhile struggling over whether or not to support the Vietnamese, but was only important to use the war to conduct “revolutionary” propaganda about imperialism–as though revolutionary propaganda can be conducted with a counter-revolutionary line!

This brings us to a final point of importance. One of the reasons why the Loren piece has been getting some attention is that in recent months, members of the Black Workers Congress (BWC) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), including leading members, have been promoting it, at the same time that they have been attacking the RU as “PL liquidators” of the national question.

Some Questions

We would like to ask BWC and PRRWO – have you actually read this Loren pamphlet that you are promoting? Do you know that in that pamphlet he upholds as essentially correct the line of PL until 1971, and that a cornerstone of that was the position that “all nationalism is reactionary,” that the Black liberation struggle is reactionary, that all national movements everywhere are reactionary? Are you not aware that throughout his pamphlet, Loren belittles the idea that there even is a national question in the U.S., reducing everything simply to “racism”? Do you, BWC and PRRWO, have any consistent principles? Do you think it is possible to have a counter-revolutionary line on the national question and a “correct line” on Party-building?

Apparently, the BWC and PRRWO have promoted the Loren pamphlet because they have retreated from the stand of building the mass movement, and linking Party-building with this, into the position that until there is a Party, all communist work in the mass movement is “bowing to spontaneity.” Here Loren and his promoters have rendered Lenin “more profound” by giving a new meaning to the concept of “bowing to spontaneity.”

Lenin meant that communists, while working in the day to day struggle, must not restrict the workers’ movement to economic struggle, and must not tail after bourgeois ideology. The task of communists, according to Lenin, is to join with the struggle of the workers, infuse communist ideology into it, and develop it into an all-around political struggle against the system and the state, in alliance with all other sections of the oppressed people. Lenin did not mean that communists should not involve themselves in the economic struggle–he specifically states in What Is To Be Done? that the Bolsheviks did more of this than the Economists themselves, and the Bolsheviks concerned themselves not only with propaganda in relation to these struggles, but with all aspects of them. They united with economic struggles as well as other struggles, helped the masses to get organized and fight for their “vital needs” (Lenin) and used this as a starting point to develop the mass movement into a revolutionary movement, under communist leadership.

Lenin took the lead in directing the communists in Russia to work in the mass workers’ movement, even before a Party was formed. In the early stages of the Russian movement, Lenin criticised the communists for restricting themselves to propaganda and insisted that they must pass over to agitation in connection with the mass movement. In fact, this work laid the basis for forming a Party in Russia.

And so, too, the work of various communist forces in this country in the past few years, in linking up with the workers’ movement and other mass movements, has helped lay the basis for the creation of a genuine Party, because the summation of this work makes it possible now to determine the correct line from incorrect lines and to develop the programme that can unite all who can be united on the basis of Marxism-Leninism to form the Party.

People like Loren and others who say that the central task all along was Party-building are failing to take into account the actual development of the communist movement in this country in recent years, and failing to reckon with the actual stages of development that this movement had to go through to make possible the creation of a genuine vanguard Party.