First Published: Resistence, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The most fundamental difference between the comrades of the ATM-ML and ourselves is how each organization views the dialectical relation that exists between the central task and all other tasks and methods of struggle. Both organizations have put forward that party building is the central task and that the party cannot be built in isolation from participating and giving communist leadership to the spontaneous struggles of the masses. This is in fact one of our fundamental unites which demarcate both organizations from opportunists of all hues on this question.
But despite the fact that both organizations consider party building in the heat of the class struggle our central task, we have two diametrically opposed views on what that means in the United States today.
LPR-ML :“PLACE ALL WORK IN THIS PERIOD IN THE CONTEXT OF PARTY BUILDING.”
ATM-ML: “PLACE PARTY BUILDING IN THE CONTEXT OF GIVING ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS PUT IN FRONT OF US BY THE MASS MOVEMENT.”
We don’t think this is a minor difference nor a question of semantics. We expect to show in this part of the polemic the correctness of our position, the incorrectness of ATM’s position, as well as the incorrect methodology and reasoning by which they arrived at that incorrect position.
To say that something is the central task in a given process means that every other task, forms and methods of struggle, etc. are subordinate to that central task during a particular period of its development. In this case, party building is the central task in this period, and Unite Marxist-Leninists, win the advanced to communism, give leadership to the mass struggle, engage in propaganda and agitation, mass actions, study circles, etc. etc. are some of the other tasks, forms, and methods of struggle that are subordinated to the central task – “placed in the context of party building in this period”.
By all our work, we mean all our theoretical, political and organizational work, all our practice in the communist, workers’, national, women’s and student movements. This position at the same time emphasizes the fact that the party can’t be built in isolation from the masses and their struggles, but rather, in the process of giving communist leadership and a planned, conscious character to those struggles. But in striving to provide communist leadership to those struggles, we cannot afford to lose our bearings, to lose perspective of what is our central task. Instead, we have to consistently link, all particular struggles and activities to the building of the party, so as to move this task forward.
Comrade Lenin left no room for doubts on this question:
Our principal and fundamental task is to facilitate the political development and the political organisation of the working class... Those who push this task into the background, who refuse to subordinate to it all the special tasks and particular methods of struggle, are following a false path and causing serious harm to the movement. And it is being pushed into the background, firstly, by those who call upon revolutionaries to employ only the, forces of isolated conspiratorial circles cut off from the working-class movement in the struggle against the government. It is being pushed into the background, secondly, by those who restrict the content and scope of political propaganda, agitation, and organisation; who think it fit and proper to treat the workers to “politics” only at exceptional moments in their lives, only on festive occasions; who too solicitously substitute demands for partial concessions from the autocracy for the political struggle against the autocracy; and who do not go to sufficient lengths to ensure that these demands for partial concessions are raised to the status of a systematic, implacable struggle of a revolutionary, working-class party against the autocracy. Lenin. Collected Works, Vol. 4. Pg. 369.
Clear. “Principal and fundamental task to facilitate the political development and political organization of the working class” (this can mean nothing else but the building of the party). “Those who refuse to subordinate to it” (to place in the context of it, ed. LPR) “all the special tasks and particular methods of struggle are following a false path and causing serious harm to the movement.” This is precisely what is happening to ATM-ML who is objectively belittling the role of propaganda, by in practice carrying out agitation as the chief form of activity; liquidating the tasks of “Marxist-Leninists unite and win the advanced to communism” by in practice carrying out the line of “Win the broad masses” to ATM-ML and by their belittling the need for open polemics as a way of struggle, not only against of opportunism, but also for Marxist-Leninist unity.
The comrades will claim we are distorting their line and refer to statements made in the “Revolutionary Cause”. But both ATM-ML and LPR-ML have unity that line is both theory and practice, both what we say and what we do. And when our deeds are in contradiction with our words, we have to either accept that we are deviating from a correct line and move correct the mistakes made in practice, or accept that our line is incorrect and move to repudiate it and strive for the correct line. But the comrades do neither.
ATM-ML will consistently put forward that “propaganda must be in the forefront” and yet in practice will consistently carry out ”agitation in the forefront”. This is underscored by the fact that ATM-ML has made its newspaper – the “pivot of its work” – a mainly agitational tool. The fact that at least 4 issues of R.C. which are almost only agitation have broadly circulated both in English and Spanish around the country, while issue #1 of Red Banner, only in English, has not been as widely distributed also points to this. The ATM sum-ups of the Moulders Strike (RC #7 and #8), Western Yarns strike (RC #8) and at Major Safe (RC #9) further show that its agitation, not propaganda that is in the forefront.
The same can be said about the fact that ATM-ML has consistently raised that Party building is our central task, but with the same consistency has failed to raise party building in their mass work. ATM-ML also consistently puts forward that “Marxist-Leninists unite and win the advanced to communism” are simultaneous tasks, no one being primary over the other, but on the other hand pit mass work against the task of “Marxist-Leninists unite” and put forward their involvement in the mass struggles as a justification for not carrying out correctly its task of struggling for Marxist-Leninist’s unity.
We feel that this contradiction between ATM’s words and ATM’s deeds is directly linked with their line “Party building has to be placed in the context of giving answers to the questions put in front of us by the mass movement”. Let’s examine the meaning in practice of this ambiguous formulation. We say this is an ambiguous formulation because it doesn’t deal with the character and content of such questions, and leaves them open to interpretation. Also, it tends to subordinate the task of party building to that of “giving answers”.
The comrades of ATM-ML recognize this ambiguity and, in polemizing with PRRWO-RWL, apparently have this ambiguity in mind when they put forward:
But let’s go back again to our position of “solving the questions put in front of communists by the mass Movement.” We referred briefly to the meaning and importance of this above but we would like to explore it a little further. This position can be interpreted either in a mechanical way (which is the only way that PRRWO and RWL can interpret anything), or as Marxist-Leninists.
Mechanically this would mean limiting the struggle to those questions or demands arising SPONTANEOUSLY from the mass movement, i.e. higher wages, bilingual education, jobs, etc. This is how PRRWO-RWL interpret it.
When we say that “party building had to be put into the context of solving the questions put in front of communists by the mass movement” ... we mean that we must build that party, its program, tactics and organization, by correctly analyzing current historical conditions, testing our views in the actual struggle, training cadres to change those conditions, and building an organization along illegal revolutionary lines so that it is capable of operating under all conditions of struggle. Revolutionary Cause, vol.1 #9 p. 8
Despite the fact that no mention is made of the primary role of theory, of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse tung Thought in this statement (unless we take the phrase “correctly analysing” to mean that) we have no, major disagreement with this statement. But we fail to see how this explanation can be summed-up as “Place party building in the context of giving answers to the questions put in front of communists by the mass movement.” It is true that this formulation can be understood in various ways (to a certain extent all formulations can be understood differently, but some are more ambiguous than others).
But more importantly than the ambiguity of the formulations, what really concerns us is that in practice ATM-ML understands (may we say, applies) its line in the way in which, according to ATM, is being summed up by PRRWO. Despite the fact that ATM-ML views this application as “mechanical” we can only conclude from struggling with the comrades, summing up their propaganda and agitation materials (e.g. R.C., Red Banner, leaflets and newsletters from ATM’s mass work, etc.) that this is precisely the application they are giving it.
Interesting enough, in What is to be Done?, Lenin addresses himself to a very similar question which we had pointed out to ATM back in August. This is how Lenin examined the question:
But the Rabocheye Dyelo not only “defended” the Economists – it itself constantly fell into their fundamental errors. The source of this confusedness is to be found in the ambiguity of the interpretation given to the following thesis of the Rabocheye Dyelo program: “We consider that the most important phenomenon of Russian life, the one that will mainly determine the tasks” (our italics) “and the character of the literary activity of the Union, is the mass working-class movement” (Rabocheye Dyelo’s italics) “that has arisen in recent years.” That the mass movement is a most important phenomenon is a fact about which there can be no dispute. But the crux of the question is, how is one to understand the statement that the mass working-class movement will “determine the tasks”? It may be interpreted in one of two ways. Either it means bowing to the spontaneity of this movement, i.e., reducing the role of Social-Democracy to mere subservience to the working-class movement as such (the interpretation given to it by the Rabochaya Mysl, the Self-Emancipation Group and other Economists); or it means that the mass movement puts before us new theoretical, political and organizational tasks, far more complicated than those that might have satisfied us in the period before the rise of the mass movement; The Rabocheye Dyelo inclined and still inclines towards the first interpretation, for it has said nothing definite about any new tasks, but argued all the time just as if the “mass movement” relieves us of the necessity of clearly appreciating and fulfilling the tasks it sets before us. We need only point out that the Rabocheye Dyelo considered that it was impossible to set the overthrow of the autocracy as the first task of the mass working-class movement, and that it degraded this task (in the interests of the mass movement) to that of a struggle for immediate political demands. Lenin, What Is to be Done? p.55-6
We feel that this is precisely what ATM-ML is doing.
Our disagreements with ATM are not whether or not communists should give answers to the questions put in front of us by the mass movement. That we must do. Our disagreements are on how we understand this and link it to the central task. We believe that by building the party we will be taking a gigantic step towards giving answers to those questions put in front of us by the mass movement. And that in the meantime (pre-party period) all our work in providing answers to those questions has to be aimed at facilitating the building of the party. As Lenin says:
Without a strong organization, tested in the political struggle carried on under all circumstances and in all periods, there can be no talk of a systematic plan of activity enlightened by firm principles and unswervingly carried out, which alone is worthy of being called tactics. (Iskra, No.4, found in Vol.5, page 6) quote from What is to Be Done?, p.59.
And that is why we must subordinate all “special tasks and particular methods of struggle” to the building of the party. On this question, ATM-ML muddled the need for the party (the task placed in front of us by concrete reality and by the guiding principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought) and how to build that party (the method of welding together the vanguard detachment of the proletariat around common line and program). This muddle confuses a description of the facts: that the state of the spontaneous mass movement points to the necessity of giving conscious leadership to it, that is, to the need for the party; with the political line guiding Marxist-Leninists in this period of party formation which should establish the correct relationship between party building and all other tasks. By so doing they establish an incorrect relationship between party building and the mass movement, between, the communist movement and the working class movement, between the subjective factor and the objective factor.
Also, ATM-ML sums-up in the conclusion to its “Editorial” by saying:
Comrades, let’s make fusion a reality. Let’s get serious about answering the questions posed by our movement. We dedicate the REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE to this task... (R.C. vol. l. #10 p. 12)
This statement is also ambiguous. ATM-ML implies that fusion IS answering the questions posed by the mass movement. Since solving those questions means, according to ATM-ML, to form the party, then fusion becomes the formation of the party. We disagree with this view. The party is the “biggest step towards fusion” but not fusion itself, which has to be built, strengthened, etc. before, during and after the party is formed. This interpretation seems to be the one meant by ATM-ML since it is consistent with their view of party building as a “protracted” struggle, and that in the meantime there are other just as important tasks to be carried out. – which in reality means that the party can’t be built (formed) until fusion is achieved. Finally, this view confuses the means (the party, fusion), with the final aim (socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat), which can be the only answer communists give to the questions posed by the mass movement.
Comrade Mao Tsetung teaches us:
There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions. On Contradiction, in Four Essays on Philosophy, p. 51
“Marxist-Leninists unite and win the advanced to communism” represent the resolution of two contradictions in the party building process. Regarding the relationship between the two, ATM-ML reaches the following conclusions:
What this line inevitably reduces itself to is this –in all of our work we must focus and pay attention only to uniting Marxist-Leninists and winning over the advanced, (precious few of whom are actually being won over; and with Marxist-Leninists our “work” usually consists of discourse and polemic). Revolutionary Cause, Vol. l, No. 10,p. 11
We believe that both tasks are equally important, in the sense that both have to be carried out in order to achieve our goal. We must carry out all tasks in order to build the party and must continue to do so in each period in order to carry out proletarian revolution, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and build socialism. On the importance and relationship between “Marxist-Leninists unite and win the advanced to communism” we hold:
At this moment the level of fusion of the communist movement with the working class movement in the U.S. is low, as is reflected by the character of the working class movement . . .
To resolve this contradiction is just as important as to resolve the unity of Marxist-Leninists because this is what determines the social basis of our future party as well as the party’s role as vanguard of the proletariat. Both correspond to essential features of the proletarian party. But, why is the unity of Marxist Leninists primary and winning the advanced to communism secondary in relation to each other?
First of all the party is made up of Marxist-Leninists. This is fundamental. The party cannot be composed of every striker, sympathiser or contributor to the revolutionary cause, as Martov would have it in his polemics with Lenin on party membership. “From the point of view of Comrade Martov the borderline of the Party remains quite indefinite, for every ’striker’ may ’proclaim’ himself a Party member: what is the use of this vagueness? A wide extension of the ’title’. Its harm is that it introduces a disorganising idea, the confusion of class and party. (Lenin CW, Vol. 6, p.211)
The party must be composed of workers, yes, but workers that are M-Ls, and not of advanced elements who are not yet communists. So it is our task to unite those that are M-Ls, and not confuse proletarian class with proletarian party or advanced elements with M-Ls. Resistance, vol.7 #5, p. 5
We have consistently fought to correctly apply this relationship in practice in these tasks as well as in our other tasks, such as in propaganda and agitation, the struggle against the right, which is main danger, without failing to struggle against “left” danger, the relationship between theory and practice, between concentrating on the advanced workers, without failing to give attention to the broad masses, etc.
In the past, ATM-ML held both that “all work must be placed in the context of party building in this period” and “that Marxist-Leninists unite is primary over winning the advanced to communism.” Why has ATM-ML abandoned these correct positions?
In the aftermath of the wing, ATM-ML abandoned these positions without making any kind of scientific analysis of the old or new lines, nor of the practice carried out while operating under such lines. In reference to these two lines, which are in fact, indissolubly connected, ATM-ML says:
The initial roots of our errors can be traced back to our Unity Congress, which failed to clearly define the tasks facing us instead saying that all of our tasks must be put into the context of party building -- rather than saying that party building had to be put into the context of solving the questions put in front of the communists by the mass movement...
This error was to lead later to more fundamental problems in regard to carrying out our tasks of uniting Marxist-Leninists and winning over the advanced, as well as in our approach to study, the struggle against opportunism, etc. R.C. #9 page 5
We suggest comrades to read the complete article. You will not find a single word to explain the connection between the line and the fundamental problems in relation to “carrying out the tasks of uniting Marxist-Leninists, winning the advanced” “approach to study”, “the struggle against opportunism”, etc.
The comrades continue:
In REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE #1 we laid out two tactical tasks to party building, and that of the two, “Marxist-Leninists Unite!” and “Win over the Advanced”, the former was necessarily our primary one.
This was a “left” sectarian error on our part. In practice it lead to focusing our work almost exclusively to work with other communists on the basis of struggling for unity on line (in the general sense) without concerning ourselves about the question of common work, i.e. revolutionary practice. Although we were proceeding from an honest desire for the unity of Marxist-Leninists, this “left” position worked against us and bur movement.
Like it or not, it inevitably led us (and will lead others) to detach the question of Marxist-Leninist unity from the question of winning, over the advanced in mass struggle, of the training of the advanced in an all-sided way, of training ones own cadres for this work. R.C., Vol.1, #9, p. 8
Why was this line a “left” sectarian error? The comrades fail to explain. They substitute the explanation with the results that supposedly that line brought them in practice. It is clear however that by carrying out only one of the two tasks, they were not applying their own line, “two tactical tasks”. They were deviating from it by absolutizing one and liquidating the other (this was, remember, in the period in which they united with the “genuine wing”.) At that time PRRWO put forward the line that the two tactical tasks were simultaneous with neither being primary over the other. (This is ATM-ML’s line today.)
How do the comrades explain that coming from different lines both organizations “detached in the practice the unity of Marxist-Leninists from the winning over the advanced?” The comrades don’t explain this either. (On the question of Unite Marxist-Leninists and winning the advanced, we refer comrades to the article in Resistance, Vol.7 #5)
ATM-ML was objectively practicing the “onlys”!
By the admission of the comrades, we can conclude that the problem was not the correct position of “everything in the context of party building” nor the also correct position of Marxist-Leninists unite as primary”, but rather the fact that, in practice, the comrades were carrying out the same line of the “onlys” of PRRWO. It is clear that they were absolutizing one aspect while liquidating the other. Thus we had two organizations, who carried out the same line in practice, while maintaining that their lines were different. ATM-ML does not deal with this question in their polemics with PRRWO-RWL (from which we have quoted their change of line.)
The only proof offered by ATM-ML to substantiate that their previous line was incorrect is their practice. If they were to be consistent and use the same empiricist method in analysing PRRWO’s line the only conclusion they could reach is that since PRRWO’s practice was incorrect, then their line (the line that ATM-ML is holding now) must also have been incorrect! But ATM-ML does not do that.
In the article, “Revolutionary Cause and Our Tasks” the comrades create a straw man to polemize against our line. They say:
That is why we fight so hard against the line (emphasis LPR) that party building is our ONLY task, and that “everything must be seen in the context (emphasis ATM) of party building”. This latter position is often interpreted to mean that all of our tasks must serve to build develop and strengthen the party. But when is this not true? Won’t we be trying to build, strengthen and expand the party even under socialism? R.C. vol. 1 # 10 p.11
By the omission of a plural, the line instead of the lines, ATM-ML has decided that the line of LPR-ML (”everything in the context of party building”) and the line of the neo-Trotskyites of PRRWO-RWL (“central and only task”) are the same line. This is a very incorrect style of struggle. Marxist-Leninists should, in polemizing with other Marxist-Leninists, look for the best argument of the opponent in order to prove it incorrect, instead of twisting their position and creating a straw man that can be easily destroyed.
LPR-ML has consistently fought against PRRWO’s “only”, “only”, “only” line. In the first article of our open polemic with the neo-Trotskyites of the “wing” we put forward:
6. They have a “left” opportunist line characterized by their “onlys”: only party building, only propaganda (rejecting agitation, only line struggle (discarding all other forms of class struggle), only political line (ideology and organization are not important for them), only the advanced (it is incorrect to pay any attention to the intermediate or attempt to raise the general level of consciousness of the masses according to them), only theory (all practice is economism according to them), only, the proletariat (denying the existence of allies of the proletariat like poor farmers, lower sectors of the petty-bourgeoisie, etc.) Resistance, Vol. 7, #5, page 6
ATM-ML quotes this in Revolutionary Cause and comrades can review all the Marxist-Leninist press – sham and genuine – and will find that such characterization of that line as the “onlys” was precisely established in that article and since then almost every other organization has referred to it in this way. The straw man falls on its own weight. In the second article of the polemic with the neo-Trotskyite wing we clearly and precisely established the difference between both lines:
It would do well to point out that while we hold that all our work must be seen in the context of our central task, which is party building, this quite different thing that to say “our principal and only task is to build the party” (PRRWO). The first position recognizes that because our principal and fundamental task is to build the party, all our work must be seen as a function of and in the service of this task. The second position is purely “left” infantilism, petty bourgeois idealism, which results in the liquidation of all the practical activities of communists. Resistance, Vol. 7, #6, page 5
To sum-up, the line of no one task being primary is incorrect because it denies the fact that in all complex processes in which there exist more than one contradiction, one is always primary over the other, while we must establish the dialectical relationship that exists between them. This applies to tactical tasks, to types of activities, to slogans, etc. Thus we say for example that in this period “theory is primary over practice”, “propaganda is the chief form of activity”, “party building is the central task”, “political line is the key link”, “right opportunism is the main danger”, “revolution is the main trend in the world today”, and so on.
For it is impossible to carry out in practice a political line which is based on an eclectic, non-dialectical, view of the relationship between things, tasks, etc. Such a political line would not correspond with objective reality, with the laws of dialectics, and thus could not be carried out in practice. Thus PRRWO, claiming that the two tasks were simultaneous and neither one primary, ended up liquidating both.
Right and “left” lines, errors and deviations are consistently committed as a result of an incorrect understanding of the relation between the central task and all other tasks. From the right, which is the main danger, party building is subordinated to the tasks of building the mass movement. Party building is not raised consistently in all the work. Practice is made primary over theory, agitation over propaganda, win the broad masses over unite Marxist-Leninist and win the advanced to communism.
The “left” disconnect party building from the class struggle. Either they want to build a party in a closet, like the PRRWO-RWL “only” line, or limit its “participation” in a particular struggle to pure phrasemongering about the need for the party, fusion, periods, etc., etc. The “lefts” with their dogmatism and subjectivism absolutize theory, propaganda, unite Marxist-Leninist and win the advanced, etc.
In both directions, party building as the central task is liquidated. From the right, by making party building a secondary task subordinated to the ups and downs of the spontaneous mass movement. From the “left” by disconnecting party building from real life, from the concrete conditions of the U.S. revolution.
We must do neither.
PLACE ALL WORK IN THE CONTEXT OF PARTY BUILDING!
MARXIST-LENINISTS, UNITE! WIN THE ADVANCED TO COMMUNISM!