First Published: Unite!, Vol. 2, No. 5, October-November 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The class struggle in the U.S., and the struggle to build a genuine communist party to lead the struggle, is characterized at present by the continued separation of the workers’ and communist movements. The task of concentrating communist forces in the industrial proletariat has not been seriously taken up. “Left-sectarianism” infects the communist movement, that is, focusing on disputes among communists to the point of failing to take communism to the masses, the failure or even refusal to fuse the workers and communist movements.
One very prevalent manifestation of this situation is the current debate and confusion in the communist movement over the question of “key link”. Those who have been busiest in sowing the confusion are the various organizations who are or have been “members” of the so-called “revolutionary wing”, presently represented by the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization(PRRWO), and the Revolutionary Workers’ League (RWL), but also including the recent former members of the Wing, Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) and the August Twenty-Ninth Movement(ATM): these latter two share the essence of the wing’s line which is that “Political line is the key link”.
The Wing says that “political line is the key link” in party building at the present time, and that the party building movement necessarily goes through a definite series of distinct “periods” or “stages” in which either “ideological tasks”, “political tasks”, or “organizational tasks” become the “key link” characterizing the given stage. This position has led the Wing to insist that we cannot take up organizational tasks yet because we have not yet entered that “stage”, and that we have essentially completed our ideological tasks and therefore any attempt to raise ideological questions amounts to “holding back” the party building movement by returning to the “previous stage”. The Wing identifies the development of political line with the development of the Party Program. But while the Wing itself has done very little to help develop political line on the major questions facing the workers’ and communist movements and has done virtually nothing toward developing a Party Program, even attacking every attempt by other Marxist-Leninists to take up joint work on the Party Program, they, nevertheless judge whether or not any organization is a “genuine” Marxist-Leninist organization according to whether or not that organization recognizes that “political line is the key link”, raising this question to the central position in party building.
The multinational proletariat in the U.S. has three strategic tasks to take up in order to carry out its revolution and seize power away from the imperialists, setting up the dictatorship of the proletariat so as to build classless communist society:
(1) the proletariat must constitute itself into a political party independent of the bourgeoisie;
(2) the proletariat must lead the broad laboring masses in a united struggle against imperialism, that is, it must orient and organize the people’s struggle against capital; and
(3) the proletariat must wage an armed revolutionary war against the capitalist state-power.
The key link that will move this revolutionary chain forward, the one, central, task that must be accomplished before any significant headway can be made in the other two, is the task of forging the vanguard communist party of the proletariat, Work must go on in all three spheres, but the party is the one that ties them all together, that leads the way, and that lays the foundation for success in the other two. This is why we say that party building is our central task and is the key link in the revolutionary chain, the one link that we must grasp at this time in order to possess the whole chain. Party building involves breaking with bourgeois interest and the bourgeois stand, with Modern Revisionism, represented in this country mainly by the CPUSA, ideologically, politically, and organizationally, in the course of fusing the workers’ and communist movements.
The essence of party building is the fusion of the workers’ and communist movements. According to the development of that process of breaking with the bourgeoisie and with revisionism and fusing with the working-class movement, various tasks of an ideological, political or organizational character come to the fore and become “key” to laying the foundations for further development of the all-around work. But these three aspects of our work are not related to one another as stages which occur one after another and only occur once; they must all be carried out simultaneously around all aspects of the work of building the party, the work of build-a united front against imperialism and leading the mass revolutionary struggle, and the work of conducting armed revolutionary war. To present ideology, politics, and organization as stages in our work as the Wing does, is to mechanically separate them from one another.
The error of the Wing is not so much that they raise a “tactical” question to a “strategic” question, or in some other way apply the term “key link” to the wrong level of tasks. The error is in seeing party building as a mechanical succession of tasks only among communists, divorced from the workers’ movement. They say that party building is a question of the fusion of the workers’ and communist movements: but then why have they not concentrated in the industrial centers of steel, auto, coal, etc. in the industrial heartland or the Black Belt South or the Southwest? Why do they ignore the absolutely critical task of building factory nuclei of communists, the main material basis for the fusion of the workers’ movement and the communist movement? Why do they call themselves multi-national communist organizations while maintaining their basically one-national-minority composition? Why do they seek to split over formulations like recognition of political line as the key link rather than seeking to unite with other Marxist-Leninists in struggle against imperialism, where opportunism will only truly be defeated?
Why do they conduct themselves in public forums in a violent and vulgar, hysterical manner, a manner that can only alienate workers from the communist movement? It is because they have constructed a mechanical diagram of party building and are concentrating on immediate goals defined by that diagram.
A review of the experience of the Russian Bolshevik Party and the Communist Party of China reveals that Lenin, Stalin, and the Chinese comrades all use “key link” on both the strategic and the tactical levels; but what runs like a red thread throughout is that all these comrades use the term “key link” as a metaphor to refer to that one task to which everything else is subordinated, the one orientation which guides all the work, the one factor that must be grasped in order for the whole revolutionary chain to move forward. At one time, the organization of an all-Russian revolutionary newspaper was that one indispensible task (Lenin, WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, Chapter V); at another time it was the development of domestic trade between town and country under the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union (Stalin, FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM, Chapter VIII); in China it is the basic line of the Party that is the key link (A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CHINA, Shanghai, 1974, Chapter IV). This last example is entirely consistent, by the way, with the present campaign in China to “take class struggle as the key link” instead of the development of production. After all, the basic line of the Communist Party of China, the line that guides all the work of socialist construction, is that class struggle continues throughout the period of the transition from capitalism to communism. Chairman Mao’s point in insisting that “class struggle is the key link” was that Teng Hsiao-ping had deviated from the basic line of the Party.
It is no accident that the Wing applies the concept “key link” in a very narrow way, that they concentrate on processes within the communist movement itself, that they confuse political line with the Party Program, that they fail to take up the task of building a solid base among the industrial proletariat and the oppressed nationalities: these together are a reflection of their basic inability to put the final goals in the forefront. The final goal is communism; what’s required for that is proletarian revolution; what’s holding that back is the lack of a vanguard party of the proletariat: the formation of that party, the fusion of the workers’ and communist movements, is the key link in our revolution.
The significance of the Wing’s concentration on immediate goals is that it is a “left”-sectarian version of the remnants of Modern Revisionism within the party building movement. The “old” revisionism of the 19th century said that “the movement is everything, the final aim is nothing.” Modern, Khruschehevite revisionism insists that the final goal is already contained within every petty reform; it even goes so far as to claim that communism has already been achieved in the Soviet Union!
The “left-sectarianism” of the Wing, the endless, sterile debates over words, the failure to take communism to the masses, amounts to the same old revisionist refusal to lead the working class to revolution. The degeneration of the Wing organizations is a reality that is independent of the will of the members of the Wing, but it is an inevitable expression of the line that is reflected in “political line is the key link” and that grows out of the confusion of long-term aims with short-term gains. And this confusion is a major part of the essence of Modern Revisionism.
We used to think that the difference between our saying that “political line is key” and the Wing’s saying “political line is the key link” was simply a confusion of words, a minor matter of forms of expression. But the practice of the Wing, its degeneration into sectarian squabbles, its failure to take up the task of concentration in the industrial proletariat and the task of fusion – these have shown that it’s not the words but the thing that’s being talked about that is the heart of the matter.
We even think our formulation of “political line is key” is a rather clumsy one and in the first issue of UNITE! we held that “theoretical form of work was the main link”. Since that time we have maintained that party building is the key link and that the essence of party building is the fusion of the workers’ and communist movements, and we have taken planned and definite steps to help bring about that fusion. The thrust of our thought and practice has always been different from the Wing’s. The similarity of our formulation on political line is due to remnants of the mechanical view of the periods of party building, a view that had its origins during the time of the break between the Revolutionary Union on the one hand and the Black Workers’ Congress and PRRWO on the other hand, a time when we were all struggling for a more systematic understanding of the process of party building. The difference has become clearer more recently, since PRRWO and RWL have begun to say that “party building is the only task” as well as being the central task. This view, combined with their narrow and mechanical view of party building, clearly cannot guide communists toward a fusion with the working class.
The basic error on this question is that of failing to keep a firm materialist grasp on what it is that we are doing. We are engaged in a political struggle: a struggle between classes for power. It is essential for this that in the course of the class struggle a break be made with bourgeois class interest. Out of the motion of making that break one divides into two: the break with bourgeois interest and with its revisionist cloak within our movement finds its expression necessarily in political line and organizational form. Every advanced worker must go through that ideological break but that break necessarily expresses itself as matter in motion (organization) in certain direction (political line). That is why it is impossible to be a Marxist-Leninist and remain “independent”. And that is why it is impossible to hold a revisionist ideological and political line and yet have a democratic-centralist organization that stands in a Bolshevik relationship to the working class. The whole question of party building has been taken up in the last ten years or so in a way that too often forgets to ask the question: “A party for whom?” For us communists or for the masses?
The communist movement exists for no other reason than to serve the struggle of the working class to overthrow the bourgeoisie and build communism, a society without exploitation of man by man. When we forget this fundamental point we inevitably get sucked into the idealist game of a delicate balancing of concepts instead of paying attention to the material requirements of the revolution.