First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 6, February 14, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In building the new communist party, it is essential to correctly grasp the different periods of its development and the chief tasks and forms of communist work in each period.
Martin Nicolaus, the opportunist recently expelled from the October League, preached a revisionist line on the question of periods and communist tasks as well as on other matters of principle.
Nicolaus’ line called for abandoning the ideological and organizational work necessary to win over, consolidate and train the advanced workers in communism and the party. Under the thesis that “agitation should be the chief form of work,” Nicolaus severed the bond between the masses and the party, denied the decisive character of propaganda work and completely liquidated the task of winning the advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism and the party.
In order to fully criticize and root out this dangerous line from our movement, it is first necessary to establish a scientific, Marxist-Leninist view of the present period and our tasks. The first part of this article is an outline statement on the tasks of communists in this period, and the second part is an analysis of Nicolaus’ revisionism on this question.
The party, like everything else in the world, develops from a lower to a higher level. It must develop from an initial period of mainly preparation to a second period of leading the masses in large-scale action.
Today, while there is widespread spontaneous struggle by the masses of people, there is no party to lead it. For many years now, the central task of U.S. Marxist-Leninists has been to overcome the betrayal of modern revisionism and establish a new vanguard party of the working class.
The founding congress of the new party is now on the horizon. But formally establishing the party will not mean that this first period of its development is over. The task will still remain to plant the party firmly on its feet.
What are the key tasks that must be accomplished in this period? First and foremost, the advanced workers (those workers who respond most rapidly to Marxism-Leninism and are the most active and dedicated to the cause of the proletariat) must be won to the science of communism and to membership in the party. Obviously no party can function as a vanguard of the proletariat if the best elements of the working class are not counted among its ranks. Without winning many of these advanced workers, of whom there are thousands in this country, the party will be cut off from the broad masses and will not successfully be able to develop proletarian leadership for the revolutionary struggle.
In addition to winning the advanced, this is also a period of deepening the ideological break with modern revisionism and uniting into a single, unified Marxist-Leninist party all the genuine Marxist-Leninists who now exist in several different organizations. A core of cadres must also be trained in this period and the basic structure of the party-type organization developed.
All these tasks must be accomplished before our party can fully and successfully pass over to the second period of its development, a period in which it will win the masses in their millions and lead them in revolutionary action up to the seizure of state power.
While communists engage in mass action today (ranging from the Gary Tyler defense to the trade union struggle and the fightback against the crisis), the chief form of communist work in the present period is not mass action but revolutionary education. This political education of the masses, especially the most advanced workers, is carried out primarily through agitation and propaganda work.
To downplay the significance of this task, or to advance too hastily to mass action as the chief form of work, objectively means weakening the ideological foundations of the party. Such errors will lead to building a party unable to withstand either the onslaught of repression or the “sugar bullets” of reformism and revisionism as the struggle intensifies. It will cause the party to disperse its forces without ensuring the necessary consolidation.
While our tasks in this period are dictated by the concrete conditions of our struggle, the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tsetung provide a good guide to understanding the development of the party from a theoretical viewpoint. Stalin, for example, summed up the history of the development of the Bolshevik Party in Russia, describing the two periods as follows:
“A) To win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism (i.e., to build up cadres, create a Communist Party, work out the programme, the principles of tactics). Propaganda as the chief form of activity. (Editors note: Here the Russian phrase used by Stalin refers to propaganda in the broad sense of the propagation of revolutionary ideas, encompassing both agitation and propaganda.)
“B) To win the broad masses of the workers and of the toilers generally to the side of the vanguard (to bring the masses up to fighting positions). Chief form of activity–practical action by the masses as a prelude to decisive battles.” (Stalin, “Political Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Communists,” Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 82-3).
Within our work of revolutionary education, the chief work of the first period of the party’s development, agitation and propaganda are the basic tools. Agitation, especially political agitation, is the most powerful form for exposing a particular injustice of capitalism or teaching a single truth of Marxism-Leninism. Because agitation deals with a limited number of points, it is easily comprehensible to the broad masses of people. By doing widespread agitation, communists help develop the class consciousness of the workers, winning them to the cause of socialism step by step.
Propaganda, on the other hand, seeks to make many ideas clear to relatively fewer people, especially the advanced workers. Propaganda articles and speeches must analyze many points and show their interrelationships. Propaganda thus provides a much more comprehensive and thorough-going form for carrying out the work of revolutionary education.
Stressing the importance of doing both agitation and propaganda about all important questions, Lenin pointed out, “Propaganda on questions of politics and Party organization must be carried out among the broad masses of the working class; and these questions must be dealt with in the work of agitation.” (Lenin, “Draft of a Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya,” Collected Works, Vol. 4, p. 326).
Throughout Lenin’s writings, he stressed the inseparable connection between agitation and propaganda. In our movement today, there can be no successful agitation if there is not also comprehensive propaganda summing up all the points treated by agitation. But there can also be no good propaganda unless it is fleshed out by agitation that makes each point better known and understood by the masses and helps promote workers of intermediate consciousness to the level of the advanced.
It is necessary to grasp this bond of unity between agitation and propaganda and also to distinguish between them. While agitation should quantitatively dominate our work (The Call, for example, is made up mainly of agitational articles), propaganda plays the decisive role–the most important tool in consolidating the advanced workers in order to win them to the party.
To say that propaganda should play a decisive role means that a great deal of attention should be paid to developing comprehensive propaganda on the most important questions facing the working class. Propaganda materials should be carefully studied, discussed and applied by the cadres and advanced workers.
Propaganda, in this strict sense, should be our main tool for training cadres and consolidating the advanced workers. It should be at the heart of our organizational structure, in party units and the networks of workers built around them.
Propaganda is the chief weapon for polemicizing against the opportunists and fighting for Marxist-Leninist unity. It is best suited to deepening our program, analyzing class forces, strategy and tactics, the world situation and other burning questions facing us.
This type of propaganda should be supplemented by agitation like flesh on a skeleton. This is the sense in which agitation and propaganda are combined, with propaganda as the decisive element.
Nicolaus opposed and denounced the elaboration of this line on agitation and propaganda work. In an internal polemic against the OL’s line written last September, Nicolaus said, “Within the combination of agitation and propaganda, the party’s line ought not to be to make propaganda chief.. .Political agitation should be chief during the party’s whole first period of development.. .Political agitation is a higher form of work than propaganda.”
These revisionist conclusions could only serve to disarm and undermine the party if they were adopted. Nicolaus’ line is a fundamentally anti-working-class line because it holds that the workers are incapable of grasping Marxist-Leninist propaganda and should simply be given agitation.
Nicolaus claimed that the “basic tasks” of party building could be accomplished in the next “six to nine months.” This liquidated all the painstaking work of the first period of party building. He vehemently opposed making propaganda central to the work of factory nuclei, networks and Call committees.
Nicolaus tried to justify this line in another paper he wrote last fall by claiming that “hardly any advanced workers exist in the U.S.” From this, he concluded that winning the advanced was “not a priority.” He said that since “no vanguard presently exists among the workers, we must raise one up, step by step, through political agitation chiefly.”
But Nicolaus was not really interested in “creating a vanguard” of the proletariat at all. Behind his erroneous views on agitation and propaganda lay his revisionist theory of reliance on the liberal bourgeoisie.
This could be seen in the type of “political agitation” he wrote. It focused on the latest happenings in Washington, from sex scandals to congressional bills. It was aimed at portraying the liberal imperialists as “half-hearted” allies of the workers’ struggle, who could be forced into taking a “better” stand by agitational exposures. Most of these articles had to be rejected by The Call because they were barely distinguishable from those of the liberal columnists in the bourgeois press.
Nicolaus thought that he could use the form of political agitation to best spread his revisionist line on the liberals. He covered up this intention by simultaneously pretending to be the greatest champion of “purity” in propaganda work–going so far as to argue that propaganda articles should consist mainly of “stating and re-stating the ABC’s of Marxism,” instead of making living applications of Marxism to the concrete conditions.
Behind all Nicolaus’ demagogic arguments, however, lay a classical economist line on the working-class struggle. At bottom, this line amounted to giving rightist agitation to the workers, while reserving propaganda for the intellectuals.
Driving this wedge between agitation and propaganda and limiting the scope of each are common threads which run through the entire anti-party opposition in the communist movement today, from Nicolaus to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), from the Guardian centrists to the “Revolutionary Wing.” While they take a slightly different form in each case, the similarity lies in an incorrect characterization of the present period and the tasks of communists, and, consequently, an erroneous line on party building.
The RCP line dovetails almost exactly with Nicolaus. The RCP has gone so far in their separation of agitation and propaganda as to publish two different newspapers, an agitational newspaper for the workers and a propaganda newspaper for the communists. Like Nicolaus, they claimed at one point that the party-building process would only take a “brief period.”
The RCP has been notorious for their failure to educate even those workers closest to them in the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism. Now that their party is built, they have drifted steadily rightward into the worst type of opportunism and economism under the banner of “mass action.”
Their all-out support for the liberal mis-leader Sadlowski is an example of their view that “drawing the masses into activity” is the most important task of communists, instead of providing the workers with the political education necessary to see through Sadlowski’s liberalism.
The Guardian centrists hold Nicolaus’ line as well. They too believe that no advanced workers exist in the U.S. and that the only way to “create a vanguard” is to do agitation in support of the liberal and revisionist misleaders, hoping somehow to “propel the masses into action.” This is exactly what Nicolaus was arguing for in his call to “make agitation chief.”
This common thread running through Nicolaus, RCP and the centrists also extends to the groups formerly in the “Revolutionary Wing.” Despite all their “left” posturing and frenzied tirades about propaganda work, these opportunists have also posed agitation in opposition to propaganda. Some of the “Wing” groups have gone so far as to call for “propaganda only.” Others are a little more slick and pay lip service to agitation while ignoring it in practice.
All these groups refuse to carry out party-building work in the heat of the class struggle and have nothing but disdain for the mass struggles of the people. Their line is in essence the same as the line of Nicolaus and the other rightists. It is objectively an anti-party line which, where implemented, can only isolate the communists and prevent the building of a genuine vanguard party.
The struggle against Nicolaus has helped raise the theoretical level of the OL and the entire unity trend. It has heightened our struggle against the opportunists of all stripes who distort the correct relationships between agitation and propaganda and between the party and the masses.