First Published: Class Struggle, No. 7, Spring 1977.
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.
Approximately one year ago, the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity (LMLU) presented its article, “Building the Party Among the Masses” to Class Struggle for publication. This article was the product of sharp two-line struggle within our own ranks. It was published as a contribution to the development of a correct Marxist-Leninist line on this most critical question.
In the year since the publication of the article, there has been sharp ideological and political struggle within the ranks of the Organizing Committee over the questions which it raised. This ideological struggle, particularly the struggle against Martin Nicolaus’ revisionist line on these questions, along with the actual experience of putting the line into practice in the working-class movement, has provided clarity on the strengths and weaknesses of the line. We are now in a position to sum this struggle up, affirm what was correct, and criticize what was incorrect.
We offer this article as part of the essential criticism self-criticism that Marxist-Leninists must be willing to engage in within our own ranks and before the masses. We believe that this is an essential part of the methods of work and class stand of the unity trend, and that our party will be strengthened by bold criticism and self-criticism. In viewing the importance of self-criticism, Lenin said: “A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfills in practice its obligations to its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class and the masses.” We believe that the article represented a correct orientation and the process of development of a correct line. It correctly targeted the two main opportunist deviations on each of the questions discussed, and dealt sharp blows at both the RCP and the “Revolutionary Wing.” It correctly identified that our main task in the present period was to build the party firmly among the masses and to win the most dedicated class fighters to communism and to the party. Finally, it correctly pointed to the decisive role that propaganda (in the narrow sense) plays in this period, the need to combine propaganda with widespread mass agitation, and the necessity of conducting our propaganda and agitation in the heat of the daily class struggle. These were its correct aspects.
However, within the line presented, there were also important weaknesses, which, if not corrected, could lead our party down a wrong path and seriously hinder our work. In order of their importance, these were: (1) the formulation that propaganda (in the narrow sense) is our chief form of activity; (2) the distinction made between “advanced workers” and “best elements,” and (3) the failure to sufficiently emphasize the need to apply our analysis to often rapidly changing conditions. It is to these weaknesses that we now turn our attention.
In this section of the article, a number of important contributions were made. RCP’s all-agitation line (with propaganda only for the handful of intellectuals and cadre) and the “Wing’s” all propaganda line, were roundly criticized. In fact, the “left” anti-party opposition has, with the exception of PRRWO/ RWL, now gone over to agitation in their newspapers without one word of sum-up or self-criticism.
While pointing out that propaganda and agitation cannot be separated from each other and from the mass struggle, our formulation that propaganda (in the narrow sense) is the chief form of activity objectively did exactly that. This formulation is a dangerous one precisely because in practice it separates propaganda from agitation. Under our formulation, the role of agitation is never really identified. In one period propaganda is the chief form of activity, and in another it is mass action. Where does agitation fit in? It is nowhere made exactly clear. Even saying we must also engage in widespread mass agitation (as we did) is not enough. It still relegates agitation to a secondary role. Rather than combining agitation and propaganda as a united weapon of educating the workers and raising them to full class-consciousness, it raises propaganda in a one-sided way above agitation.
The formulation that propaganda in the narrow sense is the chief form of activity allows no room for agitation ever to play the decisive role at any point during the party’s entire first period. This is wrong. There are situations in which agitation, as opposed to propaganda, may play the decisive role, although today it is propaganda that plays this role. For example, in the Bolshevik Party, in the period 1903-1905, when the revolutionary education of the workers was still the chief form of activity, it was political agitation which played the decisive role. This was the period when the Bolshevik Party was in transition to becoming a mass party. Our party, too, may go through a similar process of development, and it would be dogmatism for us to artificially determine our tasks apart from a concrete analysis of the conditions actually facing us.
The formulation that propaganda in the narrow sense is the chief form of activity also objectively undermines the need to carry out our tasks on the basis of the closest involvement in the mass struggle. Again, in this regard, the article emphasized strongly the need to do this, and criticized both the RCP and the “Wing”-MLOC lines. But since our tasks can only be carried out on the basis of building the closest ties to the masses and engaging in mass agitation as well as propaganda, this formulation led in practice to downplaying our actual participation in the mass struggle. It also tended to lead comrades to underrate the importance and significance of providing leadership to the masses in their fight against the bosses, the bureaucrats and the state.
In practice, many comrades, in applying the line that propaganda in the narrow sense is our chief form of activity, rushed to put out “propaganda leaflets” when the conditions called for broad agitation. Many ignored the task of establishing links with the broad masses, and separated winning the advanced from widespread work among the masses. Thus, the weaknesses and real dangers that lay within this formulation were brought to light. This was an important part of correcting it.
Another confusion created by the formulation of propaganda in the narrow sense as the chief form of activity was with regard to the role of the newspaper. This formulation tended to downplay the central role of the newspaper since in general, the paper is mainly agitation (in quantitative terms). Since the newspaper must be at the center of our work, the scaffolding around which the party is built, this confusion could only serve to weaken our work and our building of the closest ties to the masses.
Through the course of the practical and political struggle, this error became clear. The formulation that propaganda (in the narrow sense) is our chief form of activity while we also engage in widespread mass agitation, failed to describe the interrelationship between propaganda and agitation correctly. A re-examination of Stalin’s writings shows that, if we understand his references to propaganda in the broad sense of the term (i.e., both agitation and propaganda), many of these confusions are cleared up. Seen in this way, the first period is one in which the chief form of activity is the revolutionary education of the masses, especially the advanced workers, and the second period is one in which the chief form of activity is mass action. This is in fact the correct formulation. Defined in this way, we will correctly be able to accomplish our tasks of putting the party firmly on its feet, winning the advanced workers to communism and the party, and preparing the conditions for leading the broad masses in revolutionary struggle, form of activity is mass action. This is in fact the correct formulation.
The source of our error was an insufficient understanding of and experience in what the formulation “propaganda as the chief form” meant in concrete practice for the party. This error was also evident in the narrow role assigned to propaganda work by the article, in particular, the limited discussion of the role of mass propaganda. We must engage in mass propaganda, as well as agitation, about such questions as self-determination, socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat if we are to identify and win over the advanced workers, and lay a firm basis for moving to the period of mass action as the chief form of activity.
In the section on advanced workers, the article identified correctly the question before us, “what characteristics identify those workers whom we must focus on, the workers we must win to the ranks of Marxism-Leninism and the party.”
From this point of departure our discussion of advanced workers led to some confusion with respect to the differences between the terms “advanced worker” and “best element.”
Lenin’s definition of an advanced worker in “Retrograde Trend” was one of a worker already won to “social-democracy,” i.e., the term used for communism at the time. However, compared to the time of Lenin’s writing of “Retrograde Trend,” the extent of fusion of communism with the workers’ movement, and the number of workers won to Marxism-Leninism is significantly smaller in the U.S. today. We cannot dogmatically impose Lenin’s definition of an advanced worker on different concrete conditions. This is the error that ATM, MLOC and the “Revolutionary Wing” make.
We say in the article that most advanced workers are in “the existing pre-party Marxist-Leninist organizations” and that our task is to win the “best elements” of the working class to Marxism-Leninism and the party. This view assumes the advanced workers are already Marxist-Leninists. Rather than looking at the concrete conditions of our own movement, we sought to make textual distinctions using Lenin and Stalin’s writing, thus arriving at the different formulations of “advanced worker” and “best element.” Instead of completely demarcating the incorrectness of the views of the present anti-party opposition, these formulations confused many honest Marxist-Leninists.
The correct definition of the advanced workers of our movement are those workers who “are the most active and dedicated to the cause of the proletariat and who respond most easily and rapidly to the ideas of socialism (i.e., Marxism-Leninism).” Included within the strata of advanced workers are both communist and non-communist workers. Though there are many advanced workers in our ranks as Marxist-Leninists, there are many thousands in the plants and communities whom we must win to communism and the party. This is the most important part of putting our party firmly on its feet in this first stage in the development of the party.
The second weakness of this section of the article was the limited concrete discussion of our definition and its application to present conditions. Examples of work with the advanced strata of the class were academic and somewhat abstract.
The source of both these weaknesses was dogmatism as well as the limited practice of the LMLU among the proletariat at the time of the writing of the article. As we have concentrated our organization in the plants and have developed our own factory nuclei, we have seen in practice the limits of this section of the article. The formation of our party will mark a great step forward in the ability of all Marxist-Leninists to sum up our work and deepen our understanding of this most important question.
The article correctly defined two general periods in the development of the party prior to the socialist revolution. In doing so, however, it failed to sufficiently emphasize the need to analyze these two periods, and the tasks of communists, on the basis of a careful study of the concrete conditions. This failure opens the door for possible dogmatist interpretations of communist tasks.
Today we are clearly in the first period when our main task is to win the advanced workers, and our chief form of activity is the revolutionary education of the masses. This conclusion is based on an analysis of the actual conditions–the extent of the fusion of communism with the workers’ movement, and the level and intensity of the spontaneous mass struggles. The transition from the first to the second period is not necessarily a gradual one, but can develop very rapidly as a result of dramatic changes in the objective and subjective conditions. Our party must always have the revolutionary flexibility to adapt to new conditions.
For example, the Party of Labor of Albania was founded at a time when the main task, from the Party’s very inception, was to lead the masses in the fight against the fascist Italian occupation. Similarly, it is possible that the outbreak of superpower war in the near future could mean that our immediate and main tasks would be to lead the broad masses in the fight against the war and to turn the imperialist war into a civil war. It is of the utmost importance that we firmly hold to the dialectical method and always proceed from a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
This is true not only for the transition from the first to the second period, but also in grasping the ebbs and flows of the revolutionary struggle in both periods. In either period of party-building, greater or lesser weight must go to the various tasks of communists in accord with the actual level of development of the revolutionary struggle at the time.
For example, the second period in the development of the Bolshevik Party encompassed the period of 1905-1917. In this period, the main task was to win the leadership of the broad masses, and the chief form of activity was mass revolutionary struggle. However, this process did not move forward in a straight line, but advanced through twists and turns. After the failure of the 1905 revolution (by 1907), there was an ebb in the revolutionary struggle in Russia for several years. During this ebb (until about 1912) greater emphasis was placed on the political consolidation of the proletariat and its party than was true in the times of turbulent mass struggle.
It is correct, in the conditions of our struggle, to define the two general periods in the development of the party. In doing so, it is also necessary to remember that these are general guidelines, and that as Lenin put it, “the living soul of Marxism is a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.”
The last year has seen a further demarcation of the trends in our movement, with a clear revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist trend whose center is the O.C., and an anti-party trend emerging. Though we are on the verge of forming a new communist party, the task of uniting all Marxist-Leninists into a single party is not yet completed and will still be an important task of the party after its formation.
The questions raised by our article and the heightening of our trend’s understanding of these questions through the struggle against the RCP, the anti-party opposition and the Nicolaus revisionist line has resulted in an important contribution to the party building efforts.
We encourage all Marxist-Leninists to sum up their work in this period of preparation for the new party.
WIN THE ADVANCED WORKERS TO MARXISM-LENINISM AND THE PARTY!
ON TO THE PARTY!
 Class Struggle, Number 4-5, Spring 1976
 Lenin, Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, (Collected Works vol. 31, p. 57)