Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Martin Nicolaus

Marxism or Klonskyism?

How the October League’s top circle, led by M. Klonsky, uses method of suppression and demagogy to consolidate Browderite line on way to its “founding congress.” A lesson by negative example in party-building.

5. Political Line and Organizational Form

It is a basic principle of Leninism that the correct political line must struggle to become embodied in a definite organizational form, the organizational form of a democratic-centralist Party.

“The whole activity of Iskra as a separate group,” wrote Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, “has hitherto been a struggle for influence; but now it is a matter of something more, namely the organizational consolidation of this influence, and not merely a struggle for it. (Vol. 7, p. 322)

The consolidation of ideological influence in organizational form, in the form of a Leninist Party, “implies the establishment of authority, the transformation of the power of ideas into the power of authority, the subordination of lower Party bodies to higher ones.” (p. 367.)

This much of Lenin’s line on forming a party the Klonsky circle has understood rather well. It is now waving the banner of “party principles of organization” against the “circle spirit” in order to consolidate its own ideological influence over the circles associated with it, in order to secure the transformation of the power of its ideas into the power of authority, i.e. the subordination of the other circles to itself.

In all this, in and of itself, there is nothing objectionable, nothing to find fault with from a Leninist standpoint. On the contrary, the Klonsky circle should be criticized if it did not attempt to give its ideological line organizational form, and if it failed to struggle for the subordination of other circles to its own within the framework of a party.

However, it must be pointed out that this is still not the whole of Lenin’s ideas on the question of party-building. The organizational consolidation of the correct line, rather, is only the culmination of a chain of preparatory steps forming a definite overall plan.

“Let us recall the main facts in the history of the preparations for the Congress,” Lenin says at the outset of “Steps.”

Iskra declared at the very outset, in its announcement of publication in 1900, that before we could unite, lines of demarcation must be drawn. . . . Iskra acted with extreme caution in the summer and autumn of 1902 when it re-established the Organising Committee.... At last the work of demarcation was finished – as we all acknowledged. The Organizing Committee was constituted at the very end of 1902.... Thus the last thing we can be accused of is having been hasty in convening the Second Congress. We were in fact guided by the maxim: measure your cloth seven times before you cut it. . . . (pp. 209-210.)

The Second Congress was held in July-August 1903. Iskra published its draft program in the summer of 1902, half a year before the constitution of the Organizing Committee and more than a full year before the convocation of the Congress. Lenin therefore had every right to protest against comrades who, after all this careful and deliberate “measuring of the cloth” prior to cutting it, began after the Congress to “start complaining and measuring it all over again.”

The point, of course, is not that every party must spend x number of months between step A and step B, as if the birth of parties had a biologically determined gestation period, the point, rather, is that “measuring the cloth seven times before cutting it” is also an expression of a Leninist principle of party-building. Before the correct ideological and political line can successfully consolidate itself in the organizational form of a party, it must have proved itself to be the correct line.


The Klonsky circle’s order of progression toward its founding congress has followed, as is well known, a rather different chronology. After a false step (the “temporary leading body” proposal for founding a party without a congress and without a program) at the start, corrected in appearances in March 1976, the Klonsky circle convened the Organizing Committee in May, and set plans full steam ahead for the founding congress, prior to the publication of the October League’s draft program. As this is going to press (December), The Call has still not published the programmatic proposals of the October League, but the bells are being rung for the founding congress.

This chronology, by comparison with Lenin’s shows on the one hand, that the Klonsky circle is in a much greater hurry, much more eager and ambitious than was Iskra in seeking to give its ideas the organizational form of Party authority; and on the other hand, that the Klonsky circle has been much, much slower, more timid, hesitant and reluctant than was Iskra in informing the public what the definite principles and programmatic ideas are which it wants to consolidate. In fact, the cart of organizational consolidation has passed the horse of ideological influence. Readers of The Call now find themselves in the peculiar position of being urged in the strongest language to subordinate themselves organizationally, without knowing what program they are being asked to bow to. It is almost like a cultist religious appeal: first submit, then learn the mysteries of the godhead.

The Klonsky circle’s procedure of ringing the bells for the founding congress prior to publishing its program draft is a complete caricature of the Leninist method of party-building. The Klonsky circle wants people to “cut the cloth” before measuring it even once, much less seven times. This has nothing in common with Leninism. The Klonsky circle thereby forfeits the moral and political right to expect that comrades will not complain and demand that the cloth be measured. Indeed, it is the duty of Leninists to lodge such complaints and protests and to insist that the Klonsky circle must lay its program before the public and win the battle of ideological influence for this program before it seeks to convert that influence into organizational authority. On this point of party-building procedure, it is the critics of the Klonsky circle – regardless of their own definite lines – who stand on the ground of Leninism and the Klonsky circle that stands on the ground of opportunism.


More important than this question of procedures, however, is the ideological and political content that is emerging (or rather, disappearing) in the course of the process. Lenin, as is well known, insisted that “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.” The October League, a year ago, had excellent possibilities for being able to complete the work of drawing lines of demarcation against the other trends’ in our movement – provided, that is, that the OL could succeed in drawing lines of demarcation against its own right-opportunist tendencies. This did not happen. Just the opposite occurred; the right-opportunist tendency became dominant and consolidated itself. The result has been that the October League, under the command of the Klonsky circle; has increasingly blurred and muddled lines of demarcation that existed explicitly or implicitly prior to the formation of the O.C. The situation is not that the OL has not yet drawn enough clear lines; it is, rather, that it is drawing more and more blurry, muddled traces and wiping out any distinct ideological and political contours.


On this score we part company with the major organized competitors of the Klonsky circle in the dash toward the “Party.” The chief reproach we level against the Klonsky circle on this score is that it has merged its line with the major opportunist lines outside the OL in the Marxist-Leninist movement, and has lowered itself to their level, striving to become the lowest common denominator. It has, in other words, surrendered what theoretical and ideological leadership it had in the Marxist-Leninist movement, and is trying to put together an eclectic patchwork out of other people’s wardrobe. This is the road to the swamp, not to the Party.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong in adopting the lines of other organizations. It can even be a virtue. The process of uniting the Marxist-Leninists and forming the single unified Party will require the lines of different organizations to come together into a single line. For this unity to be successful, however, it will have to be based on a principled, correct line. Therefore, insofar as other organizations have a correct line on one or another question, we should frankly unite with that line; insofar as they have incorrect lines, we should frankly oppose them. Klonskyism, by contrast, practices uniting and merging with the incorrect lines of other organizations; and of course it lacks any frankness in the process.


The principal example is the question of organizational line (line on question of forms of organization), which The Call has several times proclaimed as the key issue of the present period. What are the lines on forms of organization being debated in our movement? No one today (or hardly anyone) comes out openly any longer for federationism and against democratic centralism. Does this mean that there is no line struggle over questions of organization? Nonsense. The struggle has been raging for many months now, in the form of the struggle over “chief form of activity.” This is a question of forms of organization, as I shall show in the second issue of this publication; and definite lines have emerged on it. There is the open right-opportunist line of “economic agitation as chief form of activity” of RCP and the concealed right-opportunist line (concealed under “left” phrases) of “propaganda as chief form of activity” of a number of groups formerly in or around or in the orbit of the “Wing.”

Both are in essence federationist lines; the one leads to the kind of federationism that is modeled on trade-unionism, the other to national-federationism or even literary-circle federationism; it is the organizational, principle of “every striker” on the one hand and the organizational principle of “every professor” on the other.

In the summer of 1976, after contributing next to nothing to this debate, the Klonsky circle finally defined the stand of the October League: “propaganda as chief form of activity.” Lacking any clear, definite, integral party-building theory of its own, the Klonsky circle ended up by merging its line on the “key issue” in the present period with the line of WVO and the neo-Wing, whom at the same time it denounces as “anti-party elements.” The Klonsky circle, in other words, by its own categories, adopted an anti-party party-building line (a party-liquidating line) on its way to its party congress.

The result is that the Klonsky circle today is incapable of drawing a clear line of demarcation between its “party-building” line and the neo-Wing “party-building” line. The Klonsky circle’s theoretical arsenal has become so empty that it can put distance between itself and these forces only with the ludicrous fiction that the latter’s line is “propaganda only.” Worse yet, the Klonsky circle has got to the point where it is unable to find any arguments at all, but resorts to “settling its accounts” with fists and clubs. First it embraces these groups theoretically, ideologically – and then throws them out physically. It has to throw them out in order to cover up that it is in bed with their party-building line; and at the same time, in so doing, it exposes this fact even more vividly. In the spring of 1976, the OL was correctly lecturing PRRWO – and RCP – on the inadmissibility of settling ideological differences within our movement with lead pipes; in the autumn the Klonsky circle adopts the same methods, with the same results: deeper isolation for itself, greater support for those it attacks in this way.


When we turn to the Klonsky circle’s lines of demarcation on the other side, against the open Right opportunist line of RCP, there is the same distinct blurring, if I may put it that way. The “new” Klonsky catchphrase for trade union work, “turn the trade unions into revolutionary organizations,” is another muddy brush stroke over the lines of demarcation on questions of forms of organization. It blurs over the essential differences between the trade union and the party forms of organization and makes a huge ideological concession to Menshevism.

The Klonsky circle’s follow-up stroke, which was its declaration that economic agitation and political agitation are the same, “just agitation” and therefore “rightist,” makes the muddle complete. Hitherto there have been only two trends in our movement that were unable to distinguish, even intuitively, between the two lines that stand behind these banners in the history of the communist movement. One of them is the RCP, which believes that its own economic agitation is the essence of Leninism; the other is PRRWO-RWL, which sees any kind of agitation as a deviation from the tasks of party-building. These two extremes now have a common junction in the “new” line of the Klonsky circle, which combines both fallacies into a single muddle.

Thus, in a few months’ “ideological work” prior to forming its party, the Klonsky circle has managed, on the question it itself proclaims as key in the present period, to muddy its lines of demarcation and merge its principles with both the open Right and the sham “Left” opportunist lines in our movement at the same time. Both the party-building line that appeals to “every striker” and the party-building line tailored to please ”every professor” have been incorporated and “synthesized” into a “higher dialectical unity”: Klonskyism. One can say today that the struggle against Klonskyism is the struggle against the concentrated expression of everything that is backward in our movement, and that the ideological overcoming of Klonskyism means a leap forward for the entire movement.


Bravo, comrade Klonsky! The more your circle approaches the founding day of its party, the more it merges its line with the lines of those it denounces as anti-party forces. Instead of a progressive “settling of accounts” ideologically and theoretically with other tendencies, what is at work is a process of going deeper and deeper into debt, theoretically, to major opportunist competitors. Instead of a progressive clarification of lines of demarcation, there is a regressive effacing and blurring of lines, a loss of political identity.

The closer the Klonsky circle approaches the day when everything should be perfectly clear, the less it knows what it really stands for. Whether this growing amorphousness is mainly the unconscious product of the Klonsky circle’s own degeneration, or whether it represents mainly a deliberate attempt to “unite” with the variety of ideological influences existing within the Organizing Committee is immaterial. Whatever the main reason (and both factors are at play), the inevitable outcome of this scandalous ideological retrogression will be, as Lenin said, a unity that “will be purely fictitious, (that) will conceal the prevailing confusion and hinder its radical elimination.” (Vol. 4, p. 354.)

As Chairman Mao said, not having a correct political line is like “not having a soul.” This is the fate of the Klonsky circle; it has lost its soul. What remains is muddled calculation, opportunist to the core and doomed to keep picking up rocks and dropping them on its feet.

One small irony in all of this is that, according to the Klonsky circle’s last public charting of the trends in our movement, both the RCP and the “Wing”-elements are allegedly ultra-“Left.” The Klonsky circle, to compDund the confusion, thus positions itself in its own view at the right wing of our movement. In reality the Klonsky circle does not occupy the right wing of the Marxist-Leninist movement, as it believes. In consequence of all its strenuous muddying-over of its lines of demarcation, the Klon6ky circle today forms a featureless marsh, a “centrist” formation, an eclectic muddle that is increasingly paralyzed (but no less furious!) inbetween the clearly defined right and “left” opportunist trends.


The other side of this debased coin is the mounting arrogance which the Klonsky circle displays toward all Marxist-Leninists who stand outside its sphere of influence. At a time when the line and methods of the Klonsky circle have on the whole increased the ranks of the latter and contributed to the isolation of the OL, and after a year’s time during which the major non-OL formations in our movement have perceptibly gained in strength and influence (a fact of which the Klonsky circle is privately aware) – at such a time is the worst of all possible times for the Klonsky circle to start talking as if there existed only “opportunists” and no Marxist-Leninists anywhere except in the OL’s own trend. It is a time when wise men would be humble.

Klonskyism chooses this time, instead, to proclaim that all those outside the Klonskyist trend are “opportunists” and “anti-party forces,” and aping other windy nonsense from the RCP’s performance a year ago.

This rhetoric and posturing, which the Klonsky circle has done nothing to earn, represents a drastic backsliding from its own earlier and more modest party-forming concept, according to which the OL’s party-forming project was a preliminary step, a transitional form, on the road to building the full-fledged Party – the single, unified Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the U.S. – thereafter, in the course of a continuing struggle to unite the Marxist-Leninists who remained in other formations, including other parties. This was the original concept of the slogan “struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity” and precisely this kind of unity is what the “international unity trend” in Belgium, France, West Germany, the Dominican Republic and other countries has as its goal. The Klonsky circle has broken with this more difficult but also more modest and basically more realistic concept, and now peddles instead the immodest (and, as history will show, illusory) self-advertisement that The Party is just a few weeks off and that they are it. History will punish this conceit, just as it punishes every other idealist notion.

In reality, the Klonsky circle’s present “mountain stronghold” mentality of party-building, this small-circle gesticulation with the Party banner, is nothing more than another form of the capitulationism that runs like a white thread through all the Klonsky circle’s thought and action. By thumping its political chest and roaring “we are The Party,” the Klonsky circle is in reality saying: “we give up, we can’t figure out how to unite the Marxist-Leninists or how to win over the honest forces that still disagree with us, so we’ll take what marbles we can grab and quit trying.” The red flag of party-building conceals the white flag of surrender in the battle for principled Marxist-Leninist unity, in the battle for the Party.

In sum, at the same time that the Klonsky circle has absorbed into its thinking all the backward aspects of the lines of other organizations, it has taken to denouncing the forward looking aspects of their lines with an embittered frenzy. The more the Klonsky circle degenerates into Browderism in its political content, the more it degenerates into sectarianism in form. In a word, the more it “advances” toward its founding party congress, the more it thinks and acts like a hidebound opportunist little sect. All the methods of hypocrisy, chicanery, demagogy and suppression of Marxism-Leninism which we reviewed earlier are nothing but the necessary and inevitable consequences of this retrogression.


Finally, a few words about the inner connection between the Klonsky circle’s ideological and political line, on the one hand, and its line on organizational questions (chief form of activity), on the other.

In many areas of its work the October League has been plagued by the complete liquidation of propaganda, in the narrow and precise sense of “presenting many ideas to one or a few persons.” This is a right-opportunist deviation, no doubt about that. How to correct this deviation? The rectification cannot be accomplished merely by issuing a directive. Neither a correct directive, such as “combine agitation with propaganda,” nor an incorrect directive, such as “make propaganda your chief form of activity,” is adequate in itself to cure the disease. To rectify the deviation, the material for doing propaganda work must be supplied, and this material is the product of theoretical work. To present “many ideas” you must first have many ideas, and in order to have them, you must do theoretical work. Lacking theory, you will not possess “many ideas” integrally connected with each other; and lacking that, you will not be able to do real propaganda at all (– nor successful agitation –), and no amount of directives and orders will help.

This is one of the meanings of Lenin’s well-known statement that “the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” (What Is To Be Done.)


How do things stand in this regard with the October League?

In one or a few areas of its work, a sufficient theoretical level exists for doing effective propaganda, in the precise sense. This is the case chiefly on the Afro-American national question; one can almost say it is in the case of the Afro-American question exclusively. Even here, unsettled theoretical problems remain, notably the relation between the struggle for the right of self-determination and the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Failure to advance on this question will inevitably bring with it backsliding. This apart, however, it is plain that on the Afro-American national question the October League has a theory; it has “many ideas” integrally connected; it has the wherewithal to cure the liquidation-of-propaganda ailment.

This being the case, there is no sound reason why the October League should, in this area of work, concentrate and organize its resources in such a way as to make the presentation of these ideas to “one or a few persons” its chief preoccupation for the next three, five, ten years or however many.

The policy of concentrating the main forces of the organization for a number of years on presenting many ideas to one or a few persons – this is the precise meaning of the slogan “make propaganda the chief form of activity in the first main period of party-building.”

If a party has “many ideas” – at least in one or a few areas of work – there is every reason for that party to set up specialized bodies within itself for conducting propaganda in this precise sense, while concentrating and organizing its main forces on presenting these ideas, a few points at a time, to the largest possible masses, in order that these ideas shall seize the minds of the masses and gradually become a material force. In this fashion the party from its inception plays a leading role in the class struggle and undermines the existing liberal, reformist leadership, while asserting its own, except that its leadership is still chiefly in the realm of public opinion (propaganda in the broad sense), not yet chiefly in the form of actual, practical organizational leadership of revolutionary mass actions.

(It should go without saying that action is essential in the first period as well, and that no political ideas can be thoroughly grasped in the absence of political experience. Lenin was quite clear on this.)

A party that possesses “many ideas,” integrally connected, but adopts a policy of concentrating its forces on explaining them to “one or a few persons” – without being in effect partially forced in this direction by external constraints, e.g. a tsarist, fascist or social-fascist dictatorship – such a party is choking off its potential, shirking its Marxist-Leninist duty, and getting the tasks of party-building mixed up with the sinister ideology of ’self-cultivation.’

I shall return to these questions in the second issue of M-L FORWARD. The main point for the moment is that the liquidation-of-propaganda malady cannot be cured at all in the absence of an integral, worked-out theory – in the absence of “many ideas” to present.


With this in mind, let us pass in final review the ideology of Klonskyism. The most immediately striking external characteristic of this set of ideas is its theoretical poverty; indeed its growing theoretical impoverishment the nearer it comes to its party. It has developed just as Stalin indicated: by the method of blurring over lines of demarcation, of stitching together its own line out of patches of different opportunist lines, by trying to obscure questions of principle with howling, shouting and phrasemongering, the Klonsky circle has fallen into “ideological asphyxiation” and even, as Stalin put it, “ideological death.” (On the Opposition, p. 518.) The most extreme and concentrated expression of this decay is the Klonskyite “credo,” whose principal theses have been analyzed above. The theoretical content of this catechism boils down to a half dozen opportunist catchwords; it is a thimbleful of Browderite poison. Even if we abstract from its political nature and regard it from a quantitative standpoint, we have to say that there is not “many ideas” here. There is not the stuff to cure the liquidation-of-propaganda disease; there is material for the cheapest sort of “agitation” – really only for phrasemongering, which is .the negation of agitation – but not for serious propaganda work.

Klonskyism cannot cure the problem of liquidating propaganda; Klonskyism itself is that problem in a most concentrated expression.

Why, then, is the Klonskyite ideology so keen, so insistent, so furious even about making propaganda its chief form of activity? One could understand this urge more easily if it came from people who are brimming over with theoretical productivity, and who imagine that all their creative output cannot be absorbed unless everything is reorganized and 1 concentrated on this purpose. (One would still have to judge, of course, the political content of this propaganda.) But the Klonsky circle is not in this condition; its output of theory is rather slim, and nowhere more so than on the question it regards as principal in this period, the theory of party organization. It lacks any integral, comprehensive ideas of its own, and is thus forced to buy, beg, borrow and steal the work of others. It consistently follows the method of making decisions, drawing lines and whipping up campaigns first, and trying to conduct study and theoretical work only afterward, with the inevitable results. Every polemic that Klonskyism produces is a new certificate of its own theoretical poverty.


What inner need, then, is served for Klonskyism by the line of “propaganda as the chief form of activity in the first main period”? Is it the praiseworthy desire, perhaps, to conceal its theoretical poverty as much as possible from the masses, and to restrict the awareness of its inner bankruptcy as much as possible to one or a few persons?

Unfortunately not. What is involved is the drive of Klonskyism toward the organizational consolidation of its ideological line of capitulation and liquidation.

It isn’t enough, as Lenin said, to fight for the ideological influence of one’s line; one must also give it its adequate organizational form. This is what Klonskyism is engaged in doing. Klonskyism cannot remain satisfied with trying to win ideological influence for the ideas of surrendering to the liberal leadership of the spontaneous movement and for the ideas of liquidating the party’s leading role; it must win the authority, the power, to organize the work of Marxist-Leninists in such a way as to enforce these ideas, to guarantee that “other leaders” than Marxist-Leninists will head up the working-class movement of tomorrow and the day after.

Take, therefore, the scraps of revisionist theory wrapped in phrasemongering that make up the content of Klonskyism, and call this “Communism”; persuade a few handfuls of honest workers to sit still and listen to it for a while, and call this “propaganda”; call this muddled ’propaganda’ circle a “factory nucleus”; and keep this up (despite everything!) as your chief form of activity for years and years – and there indeed you have one of the guaranteed recipes now on the market for absolutely ensuring, beyond a doubt, that a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party will not emerge to disturb the tranquility of liberal hegemony. At least not from the forces that practice the line of Klonskyism.

The line of “propaganda” (in the strict sense) as “chief form of activity in the first main period of party-building” is the currently most fashionable formula that gives to the ideological and political line of capitulation-ism a suitable organizational form. It is a formula that arose in reaction to the “economic agitation, is chief form of activity” line of RCP, but is a sham repudiation and real continuation of that equally capitulationist theory. This is the link, the underlying common essence, which has led the Klonsky circle, in step with its degeneration into Browderism, to adopt as its own both of these formulas at the same time. Capitulationism in ideological and political line inevitably adopts every form of capitulationism in matters of organization as well. They stem from the same revisionist root, and are bound to “find” each other.


The ideological line of Klonskyism is like that “mud from the bottom of the Party stream” that Lenin talked about. Its organizational line is the old hidebound circle spirit raised up to the “chief form of activity.” Do you wonder, reader, what Lenin meant by the “two steps backward” in the title of his book? Examine the development of the Klonsky circle: there, in the very process of taking one step forward toward the Party, the Klonsky circle has provided a textbook illustration of the two steps backward.

At the conclusion of his article “Political Agitation and the Class Point of View,” with which we began this study of Klonskyism, Lenin describes, prophetically, what kind of political entity the Klonsky circle represents, and how the proletariat should proceed in regard to it:

The party of the proletariat must learn to catch every liberal just at the moment when he is prepared to move forward an inch, and make him move forward a yard. If he is obdurate, we will go forward without him and over him.

Klonskyism, having moved its yard, has become obdurate, and grows more obdurate every day. Very well. There is no alternative. The choice is clear. The proletariat will go forward toward its Party without Klonskyism, and over it.