First Published: Class Struggle, Nos. 4-5, Spring-Summer 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This article, written for Class Struggle [Theoretical Journal of the October League (Marxist-Leninist) – EROL] by the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity, addresses a number of important questions for the party-building movement today. In particular it focuses on the question of the character of the advanced workers, the role of agitation and propaganda, and the tasks of communists in the different periods of party-building.
The article draws extensively on Lenin and Stalin’s writings summing up the experiences of the Bolsheviks, and shows how the “Revolutionary Wing” and the Revolutionary Communist Party have distorted the Leninist analysis of these questions.
The League for Marxist-Leninist Unity is a recently-formed communist collective which participated in the May Unity Meeting and has joined in the unity efforts to build a new communist party. We invite our readers to participate in the debate over these questions which this article generates.
At this great historic juncture in the life of our movement – when the formation of a genuine new communist party is an immediate task – the necessity of clarifying all of the major questions of ideological and political line facing us is greater than ever. In particular, we must address what the primary strategic task of the new party is in its initial period of development, what the secondary tasks are, and what the relationship between the two are. We must identify the various trends within the Marxist-Leninist movement on this question. For, “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.” (Lenin: “Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra,” CW, Vol. 4, p. 354) It is essential that we do this in order to accomplish the task of uniting Marxist-Leninists around a correct political line.
It is our view that the primary task of the party in its initial period will be to win to Marxism-Leninism and to recruit into the party “the best elements of the working class,” and thus “to form the ranks of the proletarian party and to put it firmly on its feet.” (Stalin, “The Party Before and After Taking Power,” CW, Vol. 5, p. 104)
As our starting point, we must identify why we address this question at all. Marxism teaches us that, in any complex set of phenomena, many contradictions exist. “Among these, one is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of other contradictions. .. Once the principal contradiction is grasped, any problem can readily be solved.” (Mao Tse-tung, “On Contradiction”) Thus, determining our primary task in any period is of decisive importance. In this instance, only by correctly identifying our primary task, and its inter-relationship to other tasks, can we root the party among the working class in such a way that “it is welded into one indivisible whole with the class and the masses.” (Lenin, “Left Wing Communism,” CW, Vol. 31, p. 50) Achieving this goal is an essential precondition to leading the masses to socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Our discussion necessitates a review of the history and development of the Bolshevik Party on these questions. This is so for a number of reasons. The Bolshevik Party provides particularly rich lessons for revolutionary struggle in a country (such as ours) in which the revolution will be focused in the urban centers, and the strategy for the seizure of power is armed insurrection (as opposed to guerrilla warfare.) In addition, Lenin and Stalin devoted a considerable amount of attention to these questions, and drew certain generalized conclusions from them. And finally, the debate in the communist movement today has drawn substantially on the Bolshevik experience (in considerable part erroneously interpreting it), and thus a correct analysis of that experience is required.
We begin our discussion with a description of the first period of the Bolshevik Party (until approximately 1905), as it relates to the questions we have raised.
The Marxist movement in Russia emerged in the early 1880s. This movement rose in opposition to the petty-bourgeois Narodniks (populists), who adopted methods of isolated terrorism and assassination as the path to revolution. They believed that Russia would not follow the path of capitalist development and that revolution in Russia would be based on peasant socialism. G.V. Plekhanov, who had formerly been a Narodnik, formed the Marxist “Emancipation of Labor” group in 1883 in Geneva, and led the ideological struggle to uphold the applicability of Marxism to the revolutionary struggle in Russia (although he later became a Menshevik).
Neither the ’Emancipation of Labor’ group nor the Marxist circles of that period had yet any practical connections with the working-class movement. It was a period in which the theory of Marxism, the ideas of Marxism, and the principles of the Social-Democratic program were just appearing and gaining a foothold in Russia. In the decade of 1884-94 the Social-Democratic movement still existed in the form of small separate groups and circles which had no connections, or very scant connections, with the mass working-class movement.” (“History of the C.P.S.U. (Bolshevik), Short Course,” p. 15, hereafter cited “Short Course.”)
Toward the end of this period, during the early 1890s, the first primitive steps toward establishing ties with the workers’ movement were taken.
Social-Democracy was unable to spread its activities among the masses of the workers and it therefore confined its activities to propaganda and agitation circles. The only form of activity it engaged in at that time was to conduct study circles. The object of these circles was to create among the workers themselves a group that would subsequently be able to lead the movement.” (Stalin, “The RSDLP and Its Immediate Tasks,” CW, Vol. 1, p. 12)
Lenin settled in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) at the end of 1893 and played a leading role in the workers’ study circles. By the end of 1894, Lenin had written the first agitational leaflet to be distributed to the workers. By mid-1895 he organized approximately twenty workers’ circles into the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.
Lenin put before the League of Struggle the task of forming closer connections with the mass working-class movement and of giving it political leadership. Lenin proposed to pass from the propaganda of Marxism among the few politically advanced workers who gathered in the propaganda circles to political agitation among the broad masses of the working class on the issues of the day. This turn towards mass agitation was of profound importance for the subsequent development of the working-class movement in Russia.” (Short Course, pp. 16-17, original emphasis.)
The spontaneous working-class movement was developing rapidly in this period. The League of Struggle, which linked the economic struggle of the workers with the political struggle against Tsarism, “was the first body in Russia that began to unite Socialism with the working-class movement. ” (Short Course, p. 17, original emphasis.) The League of Struggle, which through the workers’ circles was informed on what was occurring in the factories, issued many agitational leaflets directed to the workers. It responded to the strikes which were rapidly occurring. These leaflets “told the plain truth about the ulcers of capitalism, the poverty of the workers, their intolerably hard working day of 12 to 14 hours, and their utter lack of rights. They also put forward appropriate political demands.” (Ibid., p. 17.)
In the years after 1895, the Social-Democrats increased their links with the workers. “They began to go over to widespread agitation. Widespread agitation, naturally, brought to the forefront a growing number of class-conscious advanced workers; revolutionary organizations began to take form .. . [which] laid the foundations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party.” (Lenin, “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy,” CW, Vol. 4, p. 279.) This widespread agitation was combined with a continuing emphasis on propaganda and the development of the Social-Democratic circles.
In 1897, Lenin explained the socialist tasks (as opposed to the democratic tasks, i.e., the struggle for political liberty) of the Social-Democrats, and the inter-relationship between propaganda and agitation in these tasks, as follows:
Let us begin with socialist activity. One would have thought that the character of Social-Democratic activity in this respect had become quite clear since the Social-Democratic League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working class in St. Petersburg began its activities among the St. Petersburg workers. The socialist activities of Russian Social-Democrats consist in spreading by propaganda the teachings of scientific socialism, in spreading among the workers a proper understanding of the present social and economic system, its basis and development, an understanding of the various classes in Russian society, of their inter-relations, of the struggle between these classes, of the role of the working class in this struggle, of its attitude towards the declining and the developing classes, towards the past and the future of capitalism, an understanding of the historical task of international Social-Democracy and of the Russian working class. Inseparably connected with propaganda is agitation among the workers, which naturally comes to the forefront in the present political conditions of Russia and at the present level of development of the masses of workers.
Agitation among the workers means that the Social-Democrats take part in all the spontaneous manifestations of the working-class struggle, in all the conflicts between the workers and the capitalists over the working day, wages, working conditions, etc., etc. Our task is to merge our activities with the practical, everyday questions of working-class life, to draw the workers’ attention to the most important abuses, to help them formulate their demands to the employers more precisely and practically, to develop among the workers consciousness of their solidarity, consciousness of the common interests and common cause of all the Russian workers as a united working class that is part of the international army of the proletariat. To organise study circles among workers, to establish proper and secret connections between them and the central group of Social-Democrats, to publish and distribute working-class literature, to organise the receipt of correspondence from all centres of the working-class movement, to publish agitational leaflets and manifestos and to distribute them, and to train a body of experienced agitators-such, in broad outline, are the manifestations of the socialist activities of Russian Social-Democracy.” (“The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats,” CW, Vol. 2, p. 329, original emphasis.)
But there were many weaknesses which held the movement back. Although the need for a workers’ party had been recognized for a long time – Lenin wrote a draft program in 1895, and Plekhanov had written two in the 1880s – the practical achievement of this task proved very difficult. The movement was very spontaneous and unplanned; each local circle or organization acted mainly on its own. Police agents constantly disrupted the work of the local organizations, and arrests occurred continually. (Lenin had been arrested in 1895, imprisoned, and then exiled to Siberia.)
The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was formed in 1898 at a Congress in Minsk. This was an important step, but was more formal than real. The whole of the Central Committee was in jail within months after the Congress. Politically and organizationally the decisions of the Congress were weak – no stand was taken to uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat, no party program was adopted, and no party rules were set forth.
In this period, a sharp political struggle emerged within the movement – the struggle against Economism. The Economists put forward that the economic struggle was the real concern of the workers, not the political struggle (which in their view was to be carried on by the intelligentsia and the liberal bourgeoisie). This rightist trend emerged in part as a result of the turn towards widespread agitation. For just as merely engaging in propaganda work isolates the Marxists from the workers, so too widespread agitation brings them “into contact with the lower, less developed strata of the proletariat,” and thus can lead them to “put the demands and interests of the immediate moment in the foreground . . . [and] push back the broad ideals of socialism and the political struggle.” (Lenin, “Retrograde Trend,” CW, Vol. 4,p. 279.)
It is in this context–the need to build a genuine party, the struggle against the right opportunist trend of Economism–that Lenin (in often quoted passages from “Retrograde Trend”) described the three strata of the Russian working class, and how Social-Democracy viewed each.
We shall, therefore, have to deal in greater detail with the question of the relation of the advanced strata of the proletariat to the less advanced, and the significance of Social-Democratic work among these two sections.
The history of the working-class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the laboring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement promises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect. At a time when educated society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among the workers, real heroes are coming to the fore amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labor, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats – ’the working-class intelligentsia.’ This ’working-class intelligentsia’ already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party comes from its ranks. The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social-Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary, it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical, political, and theoretical problems of world Social-Democracy. Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met, and it itself will take the cause of the Russian workers and consequently, the cause of the Russian revolution, into its own hands.
After the numerically small strata of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average workers. These workers, too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers’ study circles, read socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation and differ from the preceding stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent leaders of the Social-Democratic working-class movement. The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the Party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. Such workers, absorbed by local practical work and interested mainly in the events of the working-class movement and the immediate problems of agitation, should connect their every act with thoughts of the entire Russian working-class movement, its historical task, and the ultimate goal of socialism, so that the newspaper, the mass of whose readers are average workers, must connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.
Lastly, behind the stratum of average workers comes the mass that constitutes the lower strata of the proletariat. It is quite possible that a socialist newspaper will be completely or well-nigh incomprehensible to them (even in Western Europe the number of Social-Democratic voters is much larger than the number of readers for Social-Democratic newspapers), but it would be absurd to conclude from this that the newspaper of the Social-Democrats should adapt itself to the lowest possible level of the workers. The only thing that follows from this is that different forms of agitation and propaganda must be brought to bear on these strata – pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly– leaflets on local events. The Social-Democrats should not confine themselves even to this; it is quite possible that the first steps towards arousing the consciousness of the lower strata of the workers will have to take the form of legal educational activities. It is very important for the Party to make use of this activity...” (“A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy,” CW, Vol. 4, pp. 280-281, 1899 emphasis supplied.)
Some observations are necessary in order to clarify Lenin’s point here. Lenin’s reference to advanced workers is to workers who were already Social-Democrats. They “accept socialism consciously” and “devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat.” (See above quote.) Lenin later describes that these advanced workers “guide the workers’ study circles and all Social-Democratic activity,” and “today fill our prisons and places of exile.” (“Retrograde Trend,” CW, Vol. 4, p. 284.) In “What Is To Be Done?,” he refers to this stratum as “class-conscious revolutionaries.” (CW, Vol. 5, p. 416.) These workers did not come to their Social-Democratic consciousness spontaneously, but through the work of the Social-Democratic circles and organizations.
A careful review of the paragraph on advanced workers will show that Lenin uses the terms “advanced worker,” “working-class intelligentsia,” and “conscious Social-Democrat” interchangeably. Note that Lenin first equates the working-class intelligentsia and conscious Social-Democrats. Observing that this working-class intelligentsia already exists in Russia, Lenin says that the newspaper ”must therefore be at the level of the advanced workers . . . Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met.” (Emphasis added.) Furthermore, Lenin does not say that ”advanced workers” were turning themselves into conscious Social-Democrats, but that ”real heroes” were coming to the fore from among the workers and doing so.
Our point is further clarified by analyzing Lenin’s description of the “average worker.” These workers strive for socialism, and participate in socialist study and agitation. The task was to ”promote advanced workers from the middle stratum.” Can it be seriously contemplated that Lenin would have put this task forward if he were not referring to raising the level of the average worker to that of conscious Social-Democrats, i.e., advanced workers? That analysis serves to accuse Lenin of holding to the theory of stages, i.e., that the average worker had to first be promoted to a non-Marxist “advanced” level before he could be won to Marxism and to the party. That is absurd – it was Lenin who led the fight against the theory of stages, which was held by the Economists.
What Lenin was concerned to do in “Retrograde Trend” was to refute the errors of the Economists, who were trying to degrade and hold back the movement by writing at the level of the average, or even the backward, worker. This error was most serious; it was in direct contradiction to the building of a vanguard party. The newspaper had to be at the “level of the advanced workers,” meaning that only the advanced workers would fully grasp all that was in the newspaper. The newspaper could not confine itself to the level of understanding of the average workers (who constituted the mass of the readership), but had to give guidance to the advanced and help to promote new workers to the level of the advanced. Thus, the newspaper was to be a weapon in the overall task “raising the workers to the level of Social-Democratic consciousness.” (“What Is To Be Done?” CW, Vol. 5, pp.415-416.)
This newspaper – Iskra – came into being the next year, in 1900. It was begun simultaneously with the publication of a “scientific and political magazine” – Zarya. The relationship between them, and the primary task of each, was described by Lenin as follows:
The distribution of these themes and questions between the magazine and the newspaper will be determined exclusively by differences in the size and character of the two publications–the magazine should serve mainly for propaganda, the newspaper mainly for agitation. But all aspects of the movement should be reflected in both the magazine and the newspaper, and we wish particularly to emphasize our opposition to the view that a workers’ newspaper should devote its pages exclusively to matters that immediately and directly concern the spontaneous working-class movement, and leave everything pertaining to the theory of socialism, science, politics, questions of Party organisation, etc., to a periodical for the intelligentsia. On the contrary, it is necessary to combine all the concrete facts and manifestations of the working-class movement with the indicated questions; the light of theory must be cast upon every separate fact; propaganda on questions of politics and Party organisation must be carried on among the broad masses of the working class; and these questions must be dealt with in the work of agitation. The type of agitation which has hitherto prevailed almost without exception–agitation by means of locally published leaflets–is now inadequate; it is narrow, it deals only with local and mainly economic questions. We must try to create a higher form of agitation by means of the newspaper, which must contain a regular record of workers’ grievances, workers’ strikes, and other forms of proletarian struggle, as well as all manifestations of political tyranny in the whole of Russia; which must draw definite conclusions from each of these manifestations in accordance with the ultimate aim of socialism and the political tasks of the Russian proletariat. (“Draft Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya,” CW, Vol. 4, p. 326.)
Nationwide political agitation was the “cornerstone” of Iskra’s “programme, tactics and organizational work.” (“What Is To Be Done?” CW, Vol. 5, p. 513.) “The principal content of the activity of our Party organization,” said Lenin, should be “work of political agitation, connected throughout Russia, illuminating all aspects of life, and conducted among the broadest possible strata of the masses.” (Ibid., p. 514.) At the same time, Iskra was an organ to weld the party into a whole, to build a revolutionary apparatus. It discussed all the questions facing the Social-Democrats, both in the theoretical realm and in the area of tactics, organization, and program. It combined propaganda with agitation. In addition, longer theoretical works and propaganda pamphlets were also issued. The practical connections between Social-Democracy and the working-class movement were constantly increased. Thus did Bolshevism grow and develop; thus was the fusion of the socialist and workers’ movement achieved; and thus, “during the years 1900-1903” was “the foundation for a mass party of the proletariat” laid. (Lenin, “Left-Wing Communism,” CW, Vol. 31, p. 33.)
In summing up the lessons of Bolshevism after the success of the revolution, Lenin observed that ”the first historical objective” is “winning over the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat to the side of Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat.” That, he said, “is the main thing,” for “without this, not even the first step towards victory can be made.” Only then is it time for the “next step,” ”the search after forms of the transition or approach to the proletarian revolution.” (Ibid., pp. 92-93.) In this initial period, “priority . . . goes to propaganda work; even propaganda circles, with all their parochial limitations, are useful under these conditions and produce good results.” (Ibid., pp. 93-94.)
Stalin elaborated on these observations of Lenin. He observed that the first period of the Bolshevik Party was the ”period of formation, of the creation of our party.” In this period, from the end of 190ffto the beginning of 1905, the “principal task of communism” was “to recruit into the Party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat; to form the ranks of the proletarian party and to put it firmly on its feet.” (Stalin, “The Party Before and After Taking Power,” CW, Vol. 5, pp. 103-104, 1921 original emphasis.) He also described this period as winning “over to the Bolsheviks the most active, honest and outstanding members of the working class, to create cadres, to form a vanguard.” (Stalin, “Fourth Conference,” CW, Vol. 5, p. 322,1923.)
This period was a period, said Stalin, in which propaganda “was the chief form of activity,” and in which the party was an “organization for mass agitation.” (“Political Strategy and Tactics,” CW, Vol. 5, pp. 82-83, and 87-88, respectively, 1921.)
The second period in the history of Bolshevism was the period of “winning the broad masses of the workers and peasants to the side of the Party.” (“The Party Before and After Taking Power,” CW, Vol. 5, p. 105, original emphasis.) Stalin explained that only “when these cadres [won in the first period] had grown, when they had taken shape as the basic core of our Party, when the sympathies of the best elements among the working class had already been won, or almost won–only then was the Party confronted with the task, as an immediate and urgent need, of winning over the vast masses, of transforming the Party cadres into a real mass workers party.” (“Fourth Conference,” CW, Vol. 5, p. 322.)
In this period, which lasted until the October Revolution, the chief form of activity was ”practical action by the masses as a prelude to decisive battles.” It was “the period of revolutionary mass struggle.” (Stalin, “Political Strategy and Tactics,” CW, Vol. 5, p. 83 and 88, respectively.)
We realize that we have described this aspect of the history of Bolshevism in considerable detail. We have done so because we believe that the general periods which are described by Lenin and Stalin are applicable to our own development. Indeed, Stalin observed that Lenin’s point in his comments in “Left Wing Communism” (which we quoted above) was that “the Communist Parties in the West must pass, and are already passing, through approximately the same stages of development.” (“Fourth Conference, CW, Vol. 5 p. 323.) We will discuss at greater length further on in this article the reasons that we believe this to be true for our movement.
Additionally, we have quoted at length from Lenin and Stalin so that (as Lenin observed in “State and Revolution”), “the reader may form an independent opinion of the totality of the views” (CW, Vol. 25, p. 586) of these two great Bolshevik leaders. This is particularly necessary because of the current confusion and distortion within the communist movement on these questions.
In summation then, this history teaches us the following:
(1) There were two general periods in this history of the Bolshevik Party, as we have already described.
(2) During the first period (which is the only one we have discussed in any depth), the fusion of the socialist and workers’ movements occurred. (This process of fusion was an ongoing one, and continued to develop throughout the revolution.) The RSDLP, in its first period, engaged in mass agitation and gave priority to propaganda. By addressing through agitation the concrete issues facing the working class and linking them to the struggle for socialism, by participating in the practical struggles of the workers, the best elements of the working class were won to Marxism and to the party through propaganda, through the study circles, and through their involvement in the organizational work of the party. Thus the party was rooted in the working class.
(3) The initial period of isolated propaganda circles which arose in the early 1890s was not a strategic period in the party’s development. They were a reflection of primitiveness and isolation until they were linked with the direct intervention of Social-Democracy in the class struggle, and until propaganda and agitation were linked to each other and to the practical struggle of the masses.
(4) Lenin’s references to advanced workers were to workers who had already been won to communism and were members of the local Social-Democratic organizations. The main task was not to win advanced workers to communism, but to constantly reinforce and increase the numbers of the advanced workers, and thus to form the ranks of the Party.
There has been much debate within the communist movement about what the correct definition of an advanced worker is. This debate has addressed itself to a critical question–what characteristics identify those workers whom we focus on, the workers we must win to the ranks of Marxism-Leninism and to the party.
We have already explained our understanding that the term “advanced worker,” as Lenin used it, referred to workers who were already among the ranks of Russian Social-Democracy. We agree with this definition of Lenin’s when it is grasped correctly. Thus, the question is not one of winning these advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism. The question is one of winning the “best elements” of the proletariat and raising them to the level of the advanced workers.
This is not to say that there are not advanced workers (though they represent a very small strata) in our movement. Our advanced workers are predominantly in the existing pre-party Marxist-Leninist organizations, and are participating in the struggle as communists. There are also a relatively small number of advanced workers who were at one time in a Marxist-Leninist organization, or in Marxist-Leninist study groups, who are (for a number of reasons) separate from an organization at this time. Winning these advanced workers is part of the general struggle for Marxist-Leninists to unite and is not our principal task in the workers’ movement.
The materials which we have already quoted from Lenin and Stalin provide the essential outlines of the answer to the question of who are the best elements. The first major characteristic is that these workers respond most easily and most rapidly to the ideas of socialism. The second major characteristic is that these workers are the most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat.
We use the term “respond” to the ideas of socialism (which Lenin used in “Retrograde Trend”) advisedly. This reflects our understanding that the spontaneous workers movement represents proletarian ”consciousness in an embryonic form,” but that the spontaneous movement itself leads to nothing more than trade union consciousness, i.e., subordination to bourgeois ideology. Thus, proletarian consciousness must be brought to the workers, it must be introduced into the spontaneous movement. And those workers who respond most rapidly and most easily to Marxist-Leninist ideas, who come forward to take up those ideas, are the ones we must win over to the side of the party. It is those workers who will in turn play the leading role in the development of new advanced workers, who will transmit socialist ideology into the lifeblood of the daily struggle of the proletariat.
What, then, is it in practice that identifies these best elements? Firstly, these workers must take up Marxism-Leninism when it is brought to them. Despite the grueling condition of their work, despite the pervasive and insidious influence in our society of bourgeois ideology, these best elements will take up the study of Marxism as a science and develop into conscious communists. Of course, there are differences among workers in their educational and intellectual background – but the critical thing is not what their current level is, but what commitment and resolve they will adopt to become fully conscious Marxist-Leninists.
Secondly, they must be the most active and dedicated class fighters. Our movement has no use for those who profess the most advanced ideas, but are not fighters for the working class. In shops and factories, in the communities-the best elements of the working class can be found in the thick of the class struggle. Taking a stand against national chauvinism, fighting the labor bureaucrats, protesting the conditions in the plants, opposing the bosses’ efforts to pit workers against worker (employed against unemployed, white against non-white, men against women) – the best elements of the working class express in practice their dedication to the workers’ cause. And they do so on the basis of the closest ties with their fellow workers.
This understanding of who the best elements are reflects the correct relationship between theory and practice, and between the communist movement and the workers movement.
Greater clarity can be gained by examining the two main deviations on this question. In the course of this discussion, it should be remembered that when the term “advanced worker” is used by different groups, they are referring to what we have termed the “best elements,” i.e., the highest non-Marxist-Leninist strata of the working class, that strata which we must win to Marxism and to the party. (This is because they fail to understand Lenin.)
The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), formerly the Revolutionary Union (RU), represents the right opportunist position. They have defined an advanced workers as:
One who has the respect of his fellow workers, to whom they come when they are in trouble and need to discuss their problems, and who provides leadership in the struggle. And this is true even if the individual professes some anti-communism. (Red Papers 6, p. 53), (emphasis added.)
What is the RCP describing here? Their description is nothing but a description of a militant trade unionist. They totally liquidate the question of proletarian consciousness. To RCP, it is the mere involvement in the spontaneous struggle that is everything, the strategic goal of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat are nothing. They eliminate the subjective factor (i.e., whether the worker responds to and takes up socialist ideas) except that they embrace the backward, bourgeois consciousness of anti-communism. They rely solely on the objective factor, i.e., the spontaneous workers movement which arises from the conditions of capitalism itself.
How different in essence is RCP’s view from that of Martov at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903? Martov put forward that “every striker may proclaim himself a party member” irrespective of his conscious acceptance of the party program and of his participation in a party organization under party discipline. This, said Lenin, is:
Lowering Social-Democracy to the level of mere strikemaking . . . We should be tail-enders if we were to identify this primary form of struggle which ipso-facto is no more than a trade-unionist form, with the all-round and conscious Social-Democratic struggle . . .
[Thus], the borderline of the Party remains absolutely vague... Its harm is that it introduces a disorganizing idea, the confusion of class and party.” (“One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, CW, Vol. 7. pp. 261, 267)
This is really what RCP does as well. By not taking account of consciousness, they concentrate on spontaneous militance. This is not to say that the fact that a worker professes anti-communism means that he or she cannot be won to Marxism. That is not the case. But it is the case that such a worker is not part of the best elements of the working class so long as the worker is anti-communist–for that requires affirmatively taking up Marxism-Leninism when it is introduced into the workers’ struggle.
The RCP’s line on this question is thoroughly economist and revisionist. And it should come as no surprise that this is confirmed in their whole economist approach to the workers’ struggle (which we will touch on further later on).
The “left” opportunist position on this question is exemplified by Puerto Rican Workers Organization (PRRWO), August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) and Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (MLOC). They define an advanced worker (by which they mean the worker to win to the party) by Lenin’s definition from “Retrograde Trend” which we quoted earlier, i.e., “Those who can win the confidence of the laboring masses, who accept socialism consciously, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the working class, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories.” (See ATM, Selected Speeches, p. 31; PRRWO, Palante, Vol. 1, No. 12, p. 8 and Vol. 6, No. l, p. 2; MLOC, Unite!, Vol. l, No. 2, p. 5.)
It is worth noting initially that neither ATM nor PRRWO quotes Lenin’s sentence at the beginning of the same paragraph: “The history of the working class in all countries shows that the better situated strata of the working class responds to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and easily.”
Their failure to quote this sentence is a reflection of the worship of spontaneity. What Lenin is saying is that the advanced come from those members of the working class who respond to the ideas of socialism. These ideas come from without and were preliminary to the advanced strata’s “elaborating independent socialist theories.” Their deletion of this sentence directly relates to their view (which we will discuss further) that this strata exists independently of the injection of socialist ideas into the working class.
What is the real essence of the analysis of these organizations? They believe that socialist ideology emerges from the workers’ movement. They never satisfactorily explain where the socialist consciousness and theories of the advanced workers whom they focus on come from. Thus, in their analysis, this consciousness among the workers arises apart from the conscious introduction of socialist ideas into the working-class movement. This is an incorrect understanding of the relationship between the communist and workers movements and of the actual process of fusion of the communist and workers movements. It is a “left” form of the worship of spontaneity, and is thoroughly rightist in essence.
In “What Is To Be Done,” Lenin, in discussing the economist view that “the labor movement pure and simple can elaborate, and will elaborate an independent ideology for itself,” stated that such a view is nothing but the worship of spontaneity and the belittling of the role of the conscious element. For, ”socialist consciousness is something that is introduced to the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously” (quoting Kautsky, CW, Vol. 5, pp. 383-384).
Isn’t what Lenin is describing what ATM and PRRWO do? ATM says, “As imperialist crisis deepens and objective conditions deteriorate, the spontaneous struggles will bring more advanced to the front.” (Selected Speeches, p. 32). This statement is another example of ATM’s spontaneous approach. The advanced must be promoted from the best elements; they do not emerge spontaneously. If ATM had correctly understood Lenin and Stalin, they would have seen that the “best elements” do come to the fore in increasing numbers as the spontaneous struggle sharpens, but that these workers must be promoted to the level of the advanced. It is in the interconnection of the communist movement with the spontaneous movement – through the use of propaganda and agitation, and the participation of communists in the practical struggles of the working class–that ever greater numbers of workers step forward to take up Marxism-Leninism. This does not simply occur because of the development of the objective conditions. Thus, this view separates the communist and workers movements.
There is another aspect of the way in which this view separates the communist and workers movement rather than fusing them. What is a communist worker if not an advanced worker? The communist party, after all, is the “advanced detachment of the working class.” If communist workers do not represent the most advanced strata of the working class, then logically that means they are not part of the working class. Thus, the views of these organizations leads to seeing communists as separated from the working class, rather than its advanced detachment. This is so despite all their talk of winning the advanced. Lenin and Stalin never viewed the situation this way, as we showed earlier–they recognized that advanced workers were communist workers.
Caught in a contradiction because they talk about winning those who already accept and even elaborate socialist theory and devote themselves entirely to the proletarian struggle (while in life they rarely if ever truly find such workers), these organizations then slip and slide around their definition. ATM says that the socialist theories that these workers elaborate are not scientific socialist theories (Selected Speeches, p. 32). MLOC says that a greater theoretical basis had been laid in the Russian working class movement than is true for our working-class movement; thus, they say that although advanced workers do not necessarily elaborate socialist theory, it is definitely correct that they seek to do so. (Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 1, p.6).
Why all of this qualifying and equivocating? Either you accept Lenin’s definition or you do not. We accept Lenin’s definition and believe it is, as Lenin says, true for all capitalist countries; no qualifications are necessary. Why must these other organizations, who go on at such length how Lenin was correct and how they unite with his definition of an advanced worker, constantly qualify what they say? It is because they do not understand what Lenin said. We would ask the comrades in these organizations: Are advanced workers socialists or not? If asked, would advanced workers say they were socialists? If not, then do they accept socialism consciously? Is the socialism that they accept like that in Sweden (which bourgeois propaganda says is a form of socialism)? Or do they accept genuine socialism? Do they elaborate (which means either present in great detail, or expand upon an already existing body of knowledge) independent socialist theories or not? Do they devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, or not?
Given that these organizations do not understand Lenin’s meaning, does this make any difference in practice, or is this simply an academic question? In fact, we can see that their error on this question leads them seriously astray.
Firstly, we can see that the newspapers of all these organizations – which consist of a combination of theoretical and propaganda articles – naturally flow from their approach on advanced workers. After all, if the main task is to win over workers who meet Lenin’s definition of advanced worker, then it makes sense that their newspapers are written as they are, for such workers would be fully capable of grasping the content of such articles. Thus, they do not in practice (whatever they may say about it to the contrary), understand the proper role of agitation. (We discuss this question at greater length in Section IV of this article, and only touch on it here.)
Secondly, their view in practice also leads them to intellectualism. An example can best illustrate this. Take two workers. One has, say, gone to a state college for a year; done some reading about socialism (has even read some Marx and Lenin); considers himself a socialist of some sort and likes to talk, but is somewhat cynical and in practice holds aloof from the practical class struggle to a great extent. The other worker has not had a consciousness of socialism and has not considered himself a socialist; perhaps barely finished high school and has had relatively little intellectual training; has recognized that as a worker the system oppresses him but hasn’t necessarily recognized that it is capitalism as an integrated system that is the source of his oppression; and is a strong fighter and reflects a high level of class consciousness in practice. A communist is working in a plant in which both of these workers are. The first worker likes to talk but intellectualizes a lot and doesn’t want to put anything into practice. The second worker is greatly interested in the ideas presented by our communist although there is much that he doesn’t understand at first; but he responds enthusiastically, wants to learn more, begins to take up Marxism actively, and tries to put it into practice. (This is, we know, a very abbreviated and schematized description of the actual process.)
Which of these workers is more advanced? Which of them does the party want to win? Which is one of the “best elements” of the working class? Obviously the second worker. The test is not Lenin’s definition of advanced worker. The test is what workers respond most rapidly and easily to the ideas of socialism, and what workers are most active and dedicated to the cause of the proletariat. The fact that the first worker accepted socialism consciously and the second did not was not the dividing line at all. And in fact, the organizations that we have been discussing would logically have concentrated much more on the first worker precisely because of his intellectualism.
This examination of the right and left deviations on this question (which unite in their worship of spontaneity) reconfirms the correctness of our analysis. Our task is to promote ever greater numbers of workers to the level of the advanced. These advanced workers are promoted from among the ranks of what Lenin termed the average stratum – who “strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers’ study circles, read socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation.”
This discussion of who constitutes the best elements of the working class reflects the historical experience of the international communist movement, and the practical experience of our movement. In practice, this has been the basis on which the communist movement today has been successful in winning workers to the various communist organizations. While the clarification of this question in theoretical terms is important, it can only provide us with a general guide. It is through our practical work, and the application of our theory to the concrete conditions in the workers’ movement, that our theory comes to life and assumes real meaning.
We have already referred to our view that the primary task of the party in its initial period will be to win the best elements of the working class to Marxism-Leninism and the party. In this section we will discuss why this is so; and why this task can only be accomplished in the course of our involvement in organizing, building, and struggling to lead the spontaneous movement of the masses.
Both Lenin and Stalin described two general periods in the development of the party and the revolutionary movement. (See Section I for an in depth discussion of their views.) The first objective (period) was “to win the proletariat’s vanguard over to the side of communism” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 31, p. 94), “to form the ranks of the proletarian party and put it firmly on its feet” by recruiting into the party “the best elements of the working class” (Stalin, CW, Vol. 5, p. 194). The second period is the period of the revolutionary mass struggles “when it is a question of practical action by the masses, of the disposition ... of vast armies, of the alignment of all the class forces in a given society for the final and decisive battle.” (Lenin, CW, Vol. 31, p. 94, original emphasis); in this period the party is the mass party of the proletariat. (There is a third general period, which is the period of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.)
Why is the first task to place the party firmly on its feet by winning the best elements of the working class? The party must be, in reality, the advanced detachment of the working class–the proletariat’s general staff. This requires the development and training of the advanced detachment so that it becomes firmly grounded in Marxism-Leninism, steeled in all forms of struggle, and firmly rooted among the masses. The party must be a genuine working class party. It must exist in every major working class concentration, with forces from among all nationalities. The cadre must be able to find their own bearings in the twists and turns of the class struggle through grasping and applying Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the United States revolution; and must be able to promote new advanced workers from among the “average” (intermediate) workers. The leaders of the party must come increasingly from the ranks of the advanced workers.
Only such a party is capable of leading the masses to revolution and socialism. Only such a party can withstand the fiercest repression, and can grow and increase its revolutionary influence among the masses even in the most adverse conditions. Before we can lead the masses to the final and decisive battle, and in order that we can do so, our first task must be the creation of such a party-a genuine vanguard in name and in deed.
While this is the first task of the party, it can only be accomplished in the heat of the class struggle, in the course of the party’s participation in the daily struggles of the masses. Organizing, building, and striving to lead (and increasingly in fact leading) the daily struggle of the masses is an important, indeed critical, secondary task. The best elements of the working class can only be identified and won to communism in the course of the daily struggle. How else would we bring communist ideas to the workers? How else would we know who responds to these ideas most rapidly and most easily? How else would we know who, in practice, is most active and most dedicated to the cause of the proletariat? How else would the workers see that communism represents the interests of the working class?
The objective conditions of capitalism create the spontaneous working-class movement; this movement exists, in ebbs and flows, without communist participation or leadership. The efforts to build the spontaneous movement on a class-conscious basis, to give it an organized and planned character, and to lead it are essential. This communist work allows the workers to see from their own experience who provides correct leadership, and how we differ from the bureaucrats and revisionists. In the course of our participation in the struggles of the masses, we learn from them. This is absolutely necessary if we are to understand the needs and aspirations of the masses, to understand the concrete conditions of the masses and to practice the mass line. Without this, we can never lead the masses.
There is no doubt that our movement has made important strides forward in our ties to the masses, and in winning workers to communism. But this development is still very primitive. The primary unit of the various pre-party organizations is not the factory nucleus; in fact, it is nowhere near that as yet. There are whole industries where we have no, or virtually no, presence. The number of plants where communist organization exists is very small. Our work among the oppressed nationalities is embryonic.
Our ranks number – and this is an optimistic figure – in the low thousands, this among a working class of tens of millions. There can be no question but that we are in the first period; the facts allow of no other conclusion.
There are two main deviations on this question. The right opportunist line, which is the most dangerous, denies the primacy of the task of winning the best elements. These right deviationists in essence deny the real task of building the proletarian vanguard and instead uphold as primary in this period work among the broad masses in the spontaneous movement.
This line is best exemplified by the R.C.P., which states in its program:
The central task of the R.C.P. today, as the party of the U.S. working class, is to build the struggle, class consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class.. .” (p. 101-102).
Putting forward this stand is a further revision of both Lenin’s and Stalin’s writing on the first task of the party. It is Social-Democracy that does not first concentrate on building the vanguard, and it is a Social-Democratic error that the R.C.P. makes in saying that building the mass movement is their primary task in the first period.
The stand of the R.C.P. becomes clearer in the context of their view of the Intermediate Workers’ Organizations (IWO’s):
These workers’ organizations are intermediate between the Party and the trade unions (and other similar mass organizations of workers). . .These organizations act as conveyor belts linking the Party with the class as a whole. They are one important organizational form in which communists can unite with advanced workers to build the united front against imperialism. . .” (Program, p. 109).
In this period, when all Marxist-Leninists should be placing primary emphasis on winning the best elements to Marxism-Leninism and to the party, the R.C.P. puts forward as central that communists unite with advanced workers in the united front against imperialism. The united front against imperialism must unite the broad masses of workers in the struggle against imperialism. With the best elements of the working class, the real task is not to unite with them in the united front against imperialism, but to unite with them on the basis of Marxism-Leninism – unite ideologically, politically, and organizationally.
The view of the R.C.P. reflects an incorrect understanding of the relation between the party and the masses. It is no accident that the R.C.P. and its predecessor the RU never discussed in any of their literature the building of factory nuclei. The key link between the party and the masses are the nuclei in the shops and the fractions in the mass organizations of the working class. Anti-imperialist organizations cannot be the party’s link to the masses (“conveyor belts linking the Party and class as a whole”); they cannot provide leadership for the struggle for socialism. This is the role of the party.
The party must be linked directly to the masses. To project anti-imperialist organizations as being the link to the masses instead of the fractions and nuclei is to liquidate the leading role of the party and proletarian ideology.
Does the R.C.P. truly believe that it has demonstrated to the masses its ability to lead? Is the R.C.P. a reflection of the advanced detachment of the multinational U.S. working class? This is not the case.
To completely understand the nature of the implications of errors of the R.C.P., we must look at the history of the CPUSA. During the entire period from its formation in 1921 to the consolidation of the Browderite revisionist line in 1937, the Party was involved in the struggles of the masses. The Party provided key leadership in building the TUEL, the TUUL, the Scottsboro campaign, the unemployed movement, the CIO and many other mass movements. The Party was in leadership of struggles that involved hundreds of thousands of working people in this country in its revolutionary period. Yet, one of the roots of its later turn towards revisionism was its failure to understand and implement the winning of the “best elements” of the working class to communism and the party.
During its entire revolutionary period, the Party had a massive membership turnover. In the period 1921-29, the Party recruited over 10,000 people to its ranks, yet the size of the Party decreased in this period of time. The Party also failed to recruit the “best elements” as its initial task and thus truly consolidate as a vanguard party of the working class. In the period 1930-34, when the Party went from 10,000 members to 34,000, only 4% of the entire membership were in factory nuclei. Much of this increased recruitment was from non-proletarian strata.
Due to lack of clarity, the Party all too often ended up recruiting “every striker” into its ranks. The Party passed out leaflets and printed in the Daily Worker application blanks for membership. At the same time, the Party frequently failed to follow up on workers who stepped forward, even on their own initiative, to work actively with the Party. This is not the way a vanguard party is built!
Many militant workers joined the Party only to later drift away. This reflected both a failure to do sufficient Marxist-Leninist education in the recruitment process, as well as in follow-up and consolidation inside the Party itself. Failing to plant the Party firmly on its feet by winning over as the first task the “best elements” of the working class and consolidating them ideologically, politically, and organizationally meant that bourgeois and opportunist elements and lines could not be genuinely rooted out.
We raise these errors of the CPUSA because it is essential for us to learn from the historical errors of our movement. During its revolutionary period, the CPUSA was at the head of the U.S. working class, a member of the Communist International and a fighter for Marxism-Leninism. All genuine Marxist-Leninists must stand firmly with the CPUSA in its revolutionary period when it was the party of the revolutionary proletariat. This is all the more reason why we must learn from its shortcomings as well as its successes.
The RCP’s incorrect view that building the mass movement is primary in the first period, when linked with their definition of an “advanced worker” and their all-round economism and spontaneity, not only fails to break with these errors of the CPUSA, but in fact has gone far beyond them. The implications of their stand are clearly marked in the tracks of history.
The “left” line on this question is represented by the members of the “Revolutionary Wing” and the MLOC. These organizations so downplay the importance of building and leading the struggles of the masses in this period that they virtually liquidate our secondary task. Though they give lip-service to work among the masses, in practice they must isolate themselves from the masses.
The “Revolutionary Wing” and the MLOC hold the banner high of “win the advanced to communism,” and clearly enunciate it as the primary task in the workers’ movement. But their political line on the secondary task reflects a sheer lack of comprehension of the role of the struggles of the masses in this period.
MLOC has provided the clearest expression of this left line, a line that cannot win the best elements and in fact shows complete disdain for the masses. In Vol. 2, No. 1 of Unite!, MLOC offers an extensive polemic against the October League:
’The OL fails to understand, as Marxism-Leninism teaches, that the capitalist mode of production brings about an inevitable economic and political struggle by the toiling masses against capital, which does not have to be ’built by communists.’ (p. 16).
The working class does not need communist leadership in order to oppose the Consent Decree, the ENA, or even to engage in ’political activity,’ since it can do this with the leadership of any militant trade unionist. (p. 18).
Communists do not build the mass movement; the objective conditions of capital do that. We seek to lead it. (p. 19).
What does it mean to say that the economic and political struggle of the masses does not have to be built by communists, or that the working class does not need communist leadership to oppose the Consent Decree or the ENA, etc.? Apparently MLOC believes that communists do not build and lead the day-to-day struggle, but only the final struggle.
What their view reflects in essence is the removal of communists from the partial, day-to-day struggles of the working class. They do not understand how the day-to-day struggles are correctly linked to the struggle for the complete emancipation of the working class. The struggle against the Consent Decree is a component part of the struggle for the working class’ complete emancipation. To deny the importance of these struggles and to fail to link them with our strategic goal is to encourage the most extreme forms of isolation from the masses.
In discussing the strike movement in Russia, Lenin stated, “Secondly, strikes can only be successful where workers are sufficiently class conscious, where they are able to select an opportune moment for striking, where they know how to put forward their demands, and where they have connections with socialists and are able to procure leaflets and pamphlets through them.” (CW, Vol. 4, p. 318).
Should Lenin have been critical of these socialists who provided leadership to the strike movement and who helped build it? Should a militant trade unionist have provided leadership for the strike movement in Russia instead? The answer is clearly “No!” Communists provide the best leadership in both the economic and political struggles, in the daily struggle and in the decisive struggle. Their understanding of the state and the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought provides the basis for the leadership – leadership that far surpasses those skills of the militant trade unionist. It is true that we cannot devote the predominant part of our activity towards the economic struggle, but to refuse to provide leadership for it is to show complete disregard for the daily lives of the working class. Furthermore:
Marxist tactics consist in combining the different forms of struggle, in skillful transition from one form to another, in steadily enhancing the consciousness of the masses and extending the area of the collective actions, each of which, taken separately, may be aggressive or defensive, and all of which, taken together, lead to a more intense and decisive conflict. (Lenin, CW, Vol. 20, p. 210.)
If we are not to involve ourselves in every manifestation of the class struggle, we are limiting our tactical options and our ability to move forward the struggles of the masses for socialism. Lenin stated that:
The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizons, enhances its abilities.. . (Lenin, CW, Vol. 23, p. 241).
What does it mean in this context to refuse to build the mass movements, or to counterpose building the mass movement with leading it? It means to remove oneself from the education of the proletariat. To seek to go in once the mass movement is built (assuming it will be built correctly, or at all) without engaging in education in the process of struggle to build the mass movement, is to liquidate the role of the vanguard of the proletariat.
In “Draft Resolutions for the 5th Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.,” Lenin discussed the mass tasks of the party:
4. That for the purpose of extending and strengthening the influence of the Social-Democratic Party among the broad masses of the proletariat, it is essential, on the one hand, to increase efforts to organize trade unions. (Lenin, CW, Vol. 12, p. 144).
Regardless of the fact that trade unionism arises spontaneously, Lenin is calling upon Social-Democrats to ”increase efforts to organize the trade unions.”
The members of the Revolutionary Wing (ATM, PRRWO, RWL) are not as blatant about their liquidation of the secondary task as the MLOC, but their line in essence on this question is the same.
In the most recent Palante (Vol. 6, No. 4), PRRWO, in polemicizing against the “Workers’ Viewpoint Organization and other Hidden Mensheviks,” stated that:
Their hatred of the so-called ultra-leftists, the dogmatists who insist on raising the party in everything we do, who are ’isolated’ from the masses because in fact we are applying to the real world–the teachings of the Bolsheviks as to how to build a party–concentrating on the development of the party itself. (emphasis supplied) (Palante, Vol. 6, No. 4, p. 1).
Did the Bolsheviks build the party in isolation from the masses? Did they raise the party in everything they did? The answer is clearly no.
PRRWO also confuses linking the party with everything we do to raising it in everything they do. Though the struggle to build the party must be linked with everything we do, to raise the party in every struggle is a reflection of sheer dogmatism. PRRWO’s view of raising the party in everything they do is very much linked with the practice of the members of the Revolutionary Wing. In every mass organization and struggle, they see engaging in the struggle over political line (on a theoretical level), thus ignoring the role of the mass line. We must ask ourselves, are they willing to provide leadership for the concrete struggles of the masses, or are they only willing to raise party building and other questions of political line when they have contact with the masses? The ramification of this stand is clear and is reflected in the Revolutionary Wing’s general isolation from the masses.
Thus, in practice, neither the right nor the “left” opportunists’ lines lead to the forging of a vanguard party based on the closest ties to the masses.
Basing ourselves upon the experience of the Bolshevik party, we believe that the following slogan expresses the correct relationship between propaganda and agitation in the first period of the party’s development: Propaganda is the chief form of activity; the party is an organization of mass agitation. This slogan is a restatement of Stalin’s description that we quoted earlier in Section One.
The reason for this characterization becomes easily clear when we remind ourselves of the different functions that propaganda and agitation perform.
Propaganda presents a complex set of ideas that can be understood by relatively few people. It spreads the ideas of scientific socialism in an all-sided and deep way. It is through propaganda that we present thorough explanations of the basic laws of capitalism and imperialism, the necessity of violent revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the role of the various classes in society, the right of self-determination of the Afro-American nation, etc.
Agitation differs from propaganda in that it addresses a single idea and explains that idea to a great number of people. Agitation proceeds from particular conditions with which the reader is generally familiar from his own experience. Agitation should be directed at all of the concrete questions of the class struggle and provide a Marxist-Leninist analysis of those questions. Thus agitation reflects the involvement of the party in all of the immediate struggles of the masses. It takes the experiences of the masses, concentrates them through a Marxist-Leninist analysis, and points out the concrete revolutionary understanding to be drawn from the situation. Agitation can be grasped and is meaningful to large numbers precisely because it proceeds from this concrete basis.
Propaganda articles should be written at the level of the advanced worker. They provide explanations and presentations which are necessary for the advanced worker to have a full, Marxist-Leninist grasp of a question or situation; in turn, the advanced worker brings this understanding into the daily struggles of the working class, and thus transmits it to the broad masses of workers.
Propaganda is the absolute requisite of the development and training of the best elements of the working class. No vanguard party can be built without intensive effort in the propaganda field-propaganda presented at an advanced level. Without this use of propaganda, we cannot win the workers to the science of Marxism-Leninism, and cannot consolidate them ideologically, politically and organizationally.
Once we grasp the nature of propaganda, it is easy to understand why our priority, our chief form of activity, in this period must be propaganda. Since our main task is to win the best elements of the working class to Marxism-Leninism and to the party, this perspective on propaganda follows.
If propaganda provides an all-sided grasp of Marxism to the workers, agitation is generally the means by which the workers gain an initial, partial grasp of Marxism. Agitation allows the workers to see the stand and viewpoint of the party on all of the questions which they themselves face in their daily lives. The best elements of the working class are in large part identified by the nature of their response to Marxist-Leninist agitation. Those workers who are eager to discuss the agitational articles, who wish to go into the various questions in greater depth, who begin to read the propaganda articles and study them, who begin to apply these ideas to the daily struggles of the working class – they are the workers who are responding most rapidly and most easily to the ideas of socialism.
For most workers who are just being introduced to Marxism, and who have never engaged in a process of study, some or even much of what appears in a propaganda piece will not yet be understandable. Not providing agitation thus would result in preventing large numbers of workers from taking, up Marxism-Leninism. It would mean that the party would, in practice, be abandoning these workers rather than winning them. It would mean that the party would only be taking Marxism-Leninism to a handful, rather than to the masses. It would mean that we would be unable to win the best elements of the working class, whom we must win from among the masses.
In addition, agitation is of critical importance in the party’s providing actual leadership and guidance to the daily struggle of the masses. Without agitation, the party cannot function as the vanguard, it cannot lead the class struggle.
It is for these reasons that the party, even though its chief form of activity should be propaganda in this period, must be an organization of widespread mass agitation. If the party did not engage in this mass agitation, it would inevitably isolate itself from the masses and from the class struggle. Propaganda and agitation require each other to be meaningful tools for the party and the masses; the combination of the two are essential for the education and organization of the working class and the party.
On the practical level, making propaganda the chief form of activity means that the combination of our propaganda activities – propaganda articles in the newspaper; lengthy articles in communist journals; pamphlets; speeches, lectures and forums; wide-ranging discussions with one or a small number of people; and particularly study circles – is primary.
Although we are not elaborating it here, we must be clear that propaganda and agitation are both linked inextricably to the actions and struggles of the masses themselves. While any one of these may have priority in a particular set of conditions, they are each essential components of the class struggle.
Any conceivable doubt on Lenin’s meaning must be erased by the following often-overlooked quote from “Retrograde Trend”: “. . .the advanced strata of the workers are no less class-conscious Social-Democrats than the socialists from among the intelligentsia, so that Rabochaya Mysl’s attempt to separate the one from the other is absurd and harmful. The Russian working class, accordingly, has produced the elements necessary for the formation of an independent working-class political party.” (Vol 4, p. 274, emphasis supplied).
There can be a tendency to view agitation as somehow “lower” than propaganda. This is an erroneous view. It is true–as Lenin pointed out–that agitation brings us into contact with many workers from the backward strata. The Economists in Russia lowered the level of the presentation to that of the backward workers. (Thus they addressed only the practical, economic struggle.) In our use of agitation, we must be vigilant to strive to raise the workers’ level to full class-consciousness. But that is a question of correctly approaching agitation, not one of the nature of agitation itself. Agitation is a particular form of application of the science of Marxism-Leninism. (It should be noted that there is both economic and political agitation. Political agitation provides exposures of the nature of the state and poses the question of the revolutionary struggle for state power. Due to this character, political agitation is the primary form of agitation. This is not to say that political agitation cannot deal with economic questions. What is key is that political agitation goes beyond solely economic questions.)
Any correct analysis of the relationship between propaganda and agitation requires a correct grasp of the role of the communist newspaper. Many of the incorrect lines in the communist movement today can be traced to a misunderstanding of this question.
We discussed part of Lenin’s analysis of the role of Iskra earlier in this article. The newspaper must combine propaganda and agitation. Primarily, it should be agitational. It must discuss and analyze all of the political and tactical questions facing the communist and workers’ movements. The newspaper should illuminate all of the aspects of the class struggle. It must be taken boldly to the masses and must provide guidance to the masses in the twists and turns of the class struggle.
Why is this? Why is it that, if propaganda is our chief form of activity, the newspaper is primarily agitational? The answer lies in the fact that, in our daily work among the broad masses, the principal content of the activity of the party organization is work of political agitation. At the same time, overall, our chief form of activity at this time is propaganda.
We can grasp this better through a thorough discussion of the role of the newspaper as a collective organizer. All genuine Marxist-Leninists today agree that the basic unit of the party must be the factory nucleus. Without this, we will not be able to lead the masses to revolution. This is a fundamental question, a question of principle on which there can be no compromise. Much more discussion is needed on this question in order to deepen our grasp of it. Here we wish only to discuss the role of the newspaper in the building of the factory nucleus.
We have already alluded to the primitiveness of our movement in this regard, and to the historic weaknesses of the CPUSA, even in its revolutionary period. Historically, the Social-Democratic parties of Europe and the U.S. in the pre-World War I period were based in the communities organized along electoral lines. This Social-Democratic tradition was never genuinely overcome despite repeated attention called to this problem by the Comintern.
But how concretely are we to build factory nuclei? It is not sufficient to state generalities about winning the “advanced” or the “best elements.” It is the newspaper which is the main line (the “scaffolding”) through which a nationwide, factory-based communist party can only be built. Going into this more deeply will explain why the newspaper can only play this role if it is primarily agitational.
Firstly, we should remind ourselves of the role that agitation plays in identifying the best elements of the working class. Mere agitational leaflets (which more often than not address economic questions) cannot be a substitute in any way for an organ, a newspaper, based on political agitation and combined with propaganda. Only such a newspaper can address the questions facing the working class on a comprehensive basis. This type of political education of the working class is essential. The newspaper best provides the actual material which communists can discuss with the workers to determine their response to Marxist-Leninist ideas and to educate the workers in Marxism-Leninism.
Secondly, distribution of the newspaper within the plant itself teaches the skills of secrecy in a concrete way and gives life to the understanding that the party is primarily a secret organization. The nucleus must learn to distribute the paper broadly within the plant even while keeping its identity secret from the bosses. This is one key way that we present the open face of the party to the masses. Unless we developed secret methods of work for the distribution of the newspaper, we would be easily driven out of the plants. The precise nature of these methods can only be fully determined by the concrete conditions of each plant. Much further discussion will be needed on this point.
Thirdly, distribution of the newspaper is a concrete form of activity to draw workers into the practical work of the party. Thus, the development of a distribution network in the plant, drawing the workers into this activity, is a form of transition to winning them to the party and to membership in the factory nucleus.
Fourthly, the newspaper is a critical tool in building close ties with the masses of workers and in giving guidance to the struggle of the masses, of workers. The class struggle in any plant or industry or in society-at-large, ebbs and flows, has stronger and weaker moments. The paper is a guarantee of the continuity and deepening of the class struggle in times of storm and calm. Political agitation is “both possible and essential in the period of a most powerful outbreak as well as in the period of complete calm.” (What Is To Be Done?, CW, Vol. 5, p. 514). This constant work among the masses will result in large numbers of workers who are not in the party identifying with the program and aims of the party and working closely with the party in different aspects of its work. This strata of workers conforms generally to Lenin’s description of the “average worker” (in “Retrograde Trend”). It is from among these workers that the ranks of the party will come.
Fifthly, the newspaper is of great importance in building links with workers in plants where there are no communists working, and in linking the struggles of employed workers, unemployed workers, the oppressed nationalities and women. Our forces are small, and there are many factories where we will have no cadre. We cannot rely simply on being able to send cadre into various plants, but must sell the paper at plant gates where we have no cadre, and strive to build close ties with the workers there and win the best elements to communism. This is particularly true when the class struggle is sharpened at these plants, e.g., during a strike. Similarly in the unemployment offices or the working class communities. Such work is of great importance and must always be approached with the task of building the factory nucleus in mind.
Sixthly, the newspaper can play an important role in raising the level of the workers by involving them in summing up and writing about their own struggles and developing as worker correspondents for the paper.
Seventhly, the paper can be an initial basis for the development of a Marxist-Leninist study circle. The study circle is the basic method through which workers learn, and consolidate around, the science of Marxism-Leninism. A study circle can be initiated around the study and discussion of some of the articles in the newspaper. Our task is to transform this initial study into the study of the classics of Marxism. This is difficult but absolutely essential in order to develop the party as the advanced detachment of the working class. Of course, such study should be linked to the continuing study of the newspaper as well as other contemporary materials. And all must be linked to an analysis of how to carry out the communist work in the plant, to summing up work, etc., to the application of Marxism-Leninism to the class struggle. The willingness of a worker–after an appropriate period of investigation, work and discussion–to enter a study circle is an absolute precondition to winning him or her to the party.
As with all of the questions we have discussed, there are both right and “left” opportunist lines in the movement on these questions.
The RCP’s newpaper, Revolution, is sold only to cadre, intellectuals, and to workers who are already very close to the RCP. For the masses of workers, they publish their “Worker” newspapers, which they attempt to sell in large numbers. These papers deal primarily with economic questions and are written as “anti-imperialist papers.” Revolution itself combines propaganda and agitation, almost exclusively with greater weight on propaganda. (We should include the qualification that at this point even Revolution is becoming increasingly economist.)
What is this but right opportunism once again? Marxism-Leninism is only for the few (really only for the intellectuals), not for the masses. The masses, in RCP’s view, can only grasp anti-imperialism and must be approached on the basis of their narrow economic interests. Nowhere, in any document of the RCP (or of the RU), can a discussion of the role of the factory nucleus (that the factory nucleus is the primary organizational unit of the party) be found. Nowhere does RCP ever put forward the role and importance of the communist press.
The “left” opportunist line is represented by the same constellation of forces we have already referred to previously. ATM, PRRWO, and MLOC all make propaganda not only the primary thing, but virtually the only thing in their newspaper. MLOC’s Unite! is, to date at least, virtually indistinguishable from a journal which combines propaganda and theoretical work.
Their error is that they fail to distinguish between what is primary overall (i.e., propaganda) and what is primary in the newspaper (i.e., agitation). It is understandable that they fall into this error, given their positions on the related issues which we have discussed already.
MLOC has put its views forward on this question the most explicitly. In an article entitled “Winning the Advanced Through Propaganda” (Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 24), they include a generally correct view on the relationship between propaganda and agitation. They correctly state that priority goes to propaganda, that propaganda and agitation must be linked, and that both must be linked to political action. But then what is their conception of their newspaper?
Unite!, the political organ of the MLOC, is aimed at advanced workers and Marxist-Leninists – in order to serve the central task of party building. Through a relatively high level of theoretical presentation, that is, by primarily presenting propaganda, Unite! does not focus on topical, passing events, but seeks to raise events which express the class struggle to the level of theory. It is not a mass paper–not because we do not feel such a paper is important, but because we believe the focus must be in supplying communists with propaganda for winning over the advanced, and advanced workers with the understanding which they demand to know.
While ATM and PRRWO have not explicitly stated a position on what the main content of their newspapers should be, their practice is revealing in this regard. Each of their newspapers (Revolutionary Cause and Palante) is primarily propaganda. Only infrequently do they discuss concrete struggles that are occurring (except political line struggles within the communist movement). They do not take up mass campaigns in the pages of their newspaper. Rarely have they included agitational articles. Thus, we feel that it is accurate to conclude that their line on this question is very close to that of MLOC.
This “left” position ends up being very close in practice to RCP’s. The nature of these newspapers are such that only a very tiny number of workers will be interested, or have sufficient background in Marxism, to be able to grasp the articles in the newspaper. These newspapers cannot be used as a collective organizer, cannot be used to address and give guidance to the practical struggle of the masses, and cannot play their proper role in promoting new workers to the level of the advanced. Rather than forging the fusion of the communist and workers’ movements, these newspapers isolate the communists from the workers’ movement. Rather than concretely helping to develop factory nuclei, these newspapers leave the communists without a crucial tool in the building of factory nuclei. Thus, just like RCP, these organizations, in practice, only take Marxism-Leninism to a handful of workers, and reflect (whatever their intentions) a lack of confidence in the masses and in their ability to take up Marxism-Leninism.
This “left” position appears to base its approach on the history of the R.S.D.L.P. in the pre-1895 period. In that period, as we noted earlier, the practice of the R.S.D.L.P. among the workers was confined to propaganda circles. But this was by no means a strategic period in the history of the R.S.D.L.P.; in fact, it was a reflection of the primitiveness of both the Marxist and workers’ movements. It was only when widespread agitation was taken up that the process of fusion of the communist and workers’ movements began in any meaningful way. Furthermore, Stalin was quite clear that the first period of the history of Bolshevism lasted until 1905, ten years after widespread agitation had been begun. Nowhere did Lenin or Stalin ever describe the period leading up to 1895 as a “necessary” period or stage in the Russian revolutionary development.
It is a demonstrably incorrect interpretation of the history of Bolshevism to view the pre-1895 years as having been a necessary pre-condition to the use of widespread agitation by the R.S.D.L.P. In fact, Lenin called for precisely that within a year after his arrival in St. Petersburg. Certainly there was never a Bolshevik newspaper that was primarily propaganda. Nor, for that matter, are we aware of any newspaper in the history of international communism having been primarily propaganda. This is no accident. It is because a communist newspaper must be suited to be distributed among the masses; it must tie the party to the masses.
It is understanding correctly the relationship between propaganda and agitation, and the role of the communist newspaper, that we can grasp the process of the fusion of the communist and workers’ movements in the present conditions.
In summary, then, our perspective is that the primary task of the party in its first period of its development will be to win the best elements of the working class to Marxism-Leninism and to the party. The best elements of the working class are those who respond most rapidly and most easily to Marxist-Leninist ideas, and those who are most active and devoted to the cause of the proletariat. The best elements must be promoted to the level of the advanced. This task can only be carried out on the basis of the closest ties to the masses, and in the course of the struggle to build and lead the mass movement. The chief form of activity in the initial period should be propaganda, while at the same time, the party must be an organization of mass agitation. The party’s newspaper must be primarily agitation, while it also carries extensive propaganda and addresses all the questions of tactics, organization and program. The newspaper must tie the party to the masses and be a collective organizer for the development of the factory nuclei.
Only in this way can we bring about the genuine fusion of the communist and workers’ movements. A failure of the party to take a clear correct stand on this question can only produce bad results. To date, this question has not been correctly understood in our movement, and it has held back our development. In particular, it is both possible and likely that comrades will lapse into making their work in the spontaneous movement primary unless there is clarity on this question.
In concluding, we would like to make some brief observations about the current struggle in the communist movement.
All Marxist-Leninists must be judged, in this period, by their efforts to forge Marxist-Leninist unity on the basis of a correct political line. We are participating in, and view as an important step forward, the October League’s call for Marxist-Leninists to unite and form a new, anti-revisionist communist party. Although there are many differences among Marxist-Leninists, we believe that the basis exists for Marxist-Leninists to come together and struggle for a correct political line to be reflected in the party’s program. In order for this to occur, all organizations and groups must put aside the circle spirit, identify the critical questions facing our movement, and enter into a principled struggle for unity.
In this process of building a new party, the struggle over political line is key. In particular, the struggle against right opportunism is absolutely critical. Right opportunism is the main danger in our movement. The objective and historical conditions that give rise to this include the degeneration of the CPUSA into a revisionist party, the strength of bourgeois ideology in the U.S., and the tradition of reformism; the considerable numbers of people within our movement who have come out of the petit-bourgeoisie; and the size and influence of the labor aristocracy. We can see expression of right opportunism in our movement in the continuing influence of the political line of the RCP (even upon people who are not aware that this is so), the growing articulation of centrism, the still relatively low theoretical level of our movement, the primitiveness of secret methods of work, bowing to spontaneity in our daily practice, the fact that we are not rooted organizationally in the plants, and the fact the right opportunist lines in our movement have not been fully exposed and defeated.
While we believe that the main danger is right opportunism, a resolute struggle also must be waged against “left” opportunism. We have spent a considerable amount of time explaining the “left” opportunist errors because these lines, which are partially correct (primarily in the content of their analysis of the right opportunist errors) have substantial influence in our movement. Because PRRWO, ATM and MLOC (there are others, but we choose them as representative) have correctly seen that building the party is the primary task in the workers’ movement, put that forward clearly, and correctly criticized the RCP, it has been particularly important to expose the incorrect aspects of their views.
All three of these organizations apparently share the view that the October League is right opportunist. At present, all of them have the stand that there is not a basis for Marxist-Leninists to unite and form a new party. We believe these views are dangerously erroneous and are dragging our movement backward. Our organization intends to address the question of party building in detail in a future document.
At the same time, out attitude toward these organizations is one of unity-struggle-unity. This is so despite the obvious differences we have with them. At this point, we view all of them differently than we do the RCP, which is consolidated right opportunist on virtually every question facing the communist and workers’ movements.
PRRWO and ATM consider themselves the heart of the “Revolutionary Wing” of our movement. They are dogmatic, sectarian, “left” opportunist, and–if they continue on their present course–rapidly consolidating as a clear anti-party trend. Though we have not abandoned the effort to reach unity with them, we believe they must also be dealt with very sharply.
MLOC, in our view, is different from the above two organizations. We believe that they have made some important contributions in the recent period. To a considerable extent, they have taken a very different, and more principled, stand on the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity. They also evidence “left” errors on certain important questions of political line. We invite and encourage them and the other “left” organizations, to state their views on this polemic, and to engage in a process of discussion and struggle in order to determine whether sufficient unity can be reached to enter into a common effort to form a new communist party.
In building our party, we must expose and repudiate all opportunist lines, and forge unity around a correct Marxist-Leninist political line reflected in the party program. In the course of the struggle for unity, clear lines of demarcation must be drawn with opportunist lines and organizations.
Our movement is fully capable of uniting if we all put into practice the teachings of Chairman Mao – “Practice Marxism, and not revisionism; unite, and don’t split; be open and aboveboard, and don’t intrigue and conspire.”
MARXIST-LENINISTS UNITE! WIN THE BEST ELEMENTS OF THE WORKING CLASS TO COMMUNISM! MAKE EVERY FACTORY OUR FORTRESS!
 The name Social-Democracy was the name for the international Marxist movement until the outbreak of World War I when the majority of the Social-Democratic parties supported their own bourgeoisies, in the name of “defense of the fatherland.” Since that time, Social-Democrats have been traitors to the working class and act as bourgeois agents in the working class movement.
 The accepted definition of propaganda and agitation is that “a propagandist presents many ideas to a few people; an agitator presents only one or a few ideas, but he presents them to a mass of people.” (Plekhanov, quoted by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?, ON, Vol. 5, p. 409.) Lenin elaborates further on the point on page 409.
 Lenin describes the condition of the Social-Democratic movement in depth in What Is To Be Done?, Ch. IV.
Writing in 1905, Stalin uses the term in precisely this way: “Do you not know that there are many more advanced workers than intellectuals in the ranks of Social-Democracy? ”(“Reply to Social-Democrat,’” CW, Vol. 1, p. 166). “(T)he voices of the advanced workers must predominate, not only in all other organizations, but also in the (Party) committees.” (Ibid., p. 171).
 Stalin also describes this period as lasting to “the expulsion from the Party of the Liquidators.” Although this could be dated variously, Stalin appears to mean the 1906-1908 period as the transition. It is our opinion that the 1905 characterization is more accurate.
This was discussed in the Communist International, page 717 (1932) in an article by O. Piatnitsky:
 “It is not surprising that for the last five years we had a total of 9,000 members in the party no matter how many new members were admitted per year, the membership remained stationary.” The Communist, August, 1934. This question was also discussed by T. Gusev, The Communist, January 1933, pp. 4041, “.. .and a considerable proportion of the cadres come from small industry, while a considerable number of them are of petit bourgeois origin.. .Therefore, it is not surprising that the strikes that are successfully led by us do not leave any trace on our parties and trade unions. Remember the famous strike of the textile workers in Gastonia, which obtained the sympathy of the workers of the South for us, and which gave us the possibility of building up our party organization there. And what have we now in Gastonia? Not a single party member. ” See also The Communist International, vol. xi, No. 24, p. 891 (1934). “Comrade Stachel states in the July Party Organizer that the turnover in Party membership for the year remains about 100%.”
 See discussion of letter from Finnish worker in Pennsylvania in the Communist International, page 716 (1932).
 At a recent forum, a leading member of the MLOC stated that it is not the view of MLOC that communists should not build the struggles of the masses. He stated further that their formulation in Unite! was “unclear.” We do not at present know how MLOC would formulate its current views on this question. Because this is a line which in any event exists within our movement, and because we do not have a basis to analyze MLOC’s current position, we discuss it in some detail and refer to it as MLOC’s position. In doing so, however, we want to clarify that we are not trying to tie MLOC to this position if they no longer hold it.