First Published: The Guardian, March 24, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There are few surer signs of political immaturity than the substitution of a seemingly “militant” posture for the employment of scientific tactics.
Anyone can strike a “revolutionary” stance or utter apparently irreproachable “revolutionary” phrases.
History has dealt with such juvenile nonsense in an appropriately summary fashion. So has the working class. Revolution is too important a matter, says the proletariat, to be left in the hands of idealists and word-merchants.
But despite the verdicts of history, “revolutionary” posturing continues to plague the left. Revisionists posture as revolutionaries by elevating the struggle for immediate reform to a strategic goal, claiming that they are communists while abandoning the fundamental precepts of Marxism-Leninism which provide the indispensable theoretical guide for the overthrow of capitalism.
“Left” dogmatists posture as “revolutionaries” by seeing revisionism as the main aspect of every struggle for reform, claiming to be a “vanguard” whether any among the masses are following their lead or not.
Typical of hothouse “revolutionaries” is the tendency either to totally ignore the question of tactics or else to apply political line in such a literal and mechanical fashion that one sighs in relief when such people confine themselves to ideological polemics and steer clear of trying to intervene in the real world.
Over the past year, the October League (OL) has been trumpeting as a cornerstone of revolutionary principle the slogan, “No united action with revisionists.” This essentially empty slogan speaks volumes about the removal of those who advance it from the realities of mass political struggle in the U.S. today.
All revolutionary experience demonstrates beyond any possibility of a doubt that the question of united action with anyone is a matter strictly to be determined on the basis of concrete circumstances rather than abstract fiat. But history aside for the moment, does this silly little cuckoo-bird’s-eye view of politics have anything in common with the way in which serious revolutionaries–not posturers–scientifically work out their tactics?
It is, in fact, a formula for the justification of irrelevance and sectarianism.
Why is this so? Because the slogan, “No united action with revisionists,” implies that revisionism has already been so thoroughly exposed before the masses that mass organizations, militant workers, anti-imperialists and progressive-minded people in general will support such a stand.
Where but in the fantasies of a handful of dogmatists is this true?
In how many genuine mass organizations or truly representative coalitions–and we are not speaking here of those spurious fronts which both self-deluding sectarians and the revisionists themselves are so expert at launching–could such a tactic be implemented?
Practically none, with the exception of organizations which might gleefully exclude members of the Communist Party USA not on the basis of a critique of revisionism but simply on good old-fashioned anticommunism.
What has really happened in practice, as the OL has tried to implement this tactic, has not been the political isolation of the CPUSA but the political isolation of organizations who adopt such a stand as a matter of principle. When this stand becomes an inflexible rule applied to all situations it often permits revisionism to operate within mass organizations, coalitions and movements unchallenged by a genuinely revolutionary alternative.
By and large, the revisionists themselves are eminently satisfied with this state of affairs. In fact, they will invariably fight tooth and nail themselves to exclude genuine Marxist-Leninists from coalitions and organizations in which the revisionists are active. Who can blame them? The bankruptcy of revisionism in practice cannot stand the glare of light which genuine revolutionaries can bring to bear.
Of course, not every sectarian is of the OL variety. There are some who consider themselves Marxist-Leninists who think that the way to combat revisionism is to stalk into coalitions and mass organizations and, regardless of the actual circumstances or basis of political unity, make the chief aspect of their participation denouncing Soviet social-imperialism. This inevitably is followed by a villification as “revisionist” of all who offer criticism of this tactic.
Such is the mentality of those who have not only failed to recognize their own amateurishness but have elevated it to the point of deification.
Such people have no confidence in the masses and think that being a “revolutionary” consists primarily in orgies of self-serving turgid prose which seems oblivious to any consequences their juvenile posturing has on those subjected to it.
Such “revolutionaries” are among the best friends the revisionists have. Instead of having to explain and defend their bankrupt political line, the revisionists have a ready-made diversion at hand.
But the struggle against revisionism is a serious matter which will not be accomplished by hortatory rhetoric or self-congratulatory posturing. It involves demonstrating in concrete form the essential futility of reformist illusions and the class collaborationist view of those who promulgate them.
How do revolutionaries struggle against revisionism within mass organizations and coalitions? Well, first of all, not by carrying an ideological chip on their shoulders which suggests that they are operating within each struggle primarily in order to pass judgment on everyone else.
Genuine revolutionaries must always make a thorough and detailed assessment of each situation. Who are the forces involved? What is the basis of unity which has brought people together? What is the strategic objective of revolutionaries and what political line is capable of leading the particular struggle in that direction? What is the political form of revisionism in the particular situation? Who are the middle forces and how can they be won?
It is only by answering these questions–and many others–that revolutionaries can give leadership and simultaneously expose and combat revisionism. To do this, they must also be seen by the masses as the most militant upholders of the unity of each struggle on the basis of the most advanced political view that corresponds to reality. Then, if they do not make the mistake of substituting their own consciousness for that of the masses, they will find the way to advance the particular cause involved, deepen their ties with the people and also advance the independent views of the communists.
If one may paraphrase Lenin, the struggle against revisionism is a sham and a humbug if it is not accompanied by a struggle against dogmatism and infantile leftism.