Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist League

Pragmatism and the Split in The New Voice


Published: April 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In September of 1974, a general conference of the membership of The New Voice (TNV) was held. At this conference one-third of the membership was forced out of TNV because of political differences.

The split in TNV came about as a result of the growth of certain varieties of capitalist ideology inside the organization, These variations can all be grouped under the general headings of careerism, dishonesty, organizational manipulation, and abuse of positions of authority. Two other attitudes facilitated the growth of these pragmatic practices. (1) There was a fear and dislike of struggles over theoretical principles–typical of “economism”. The other side of this coin was a “liberal” desire for a peaceful and pleasant life. This “liberalism” was combined with (2) a tolerance for dishonesty and pragmatic expediency.


In early August, 1974, the position paper of a fellow member and elected representative to the Political Committee (i.e., the central committee) was distributed to all members of The New Voice. The paper contained news of a struggle within the Political Committee (PC) which had resulted in the April resignation of the author of the paper, the leading theoretician of TNV. Word of this struggle, the lines involved, and the resignation of this highly respected comrade from the PC had been completely suppressed until the appearance of the paper.

In preparation for the September general conference, all members of TNV had been summarizing and evaluating their past work in order to submit reports to the PC prior to the conference. The ex-PC member’s position paper was received by comrades who were aware of problems and contradictions within TNV, as they were in the process of reviewing past work. Though some members were concerned about these problems, they did not have a clear analysis of these issues.

One of the criticisms these members had was the abandonment of theoretical development over the preceding five or six months. New study groups were dissipating and having to combine. Advanced study groups had entirely disappeared – a serious occurrence because every member of TNV was eligible to attend advanced study groups.

These members were very disturbed because technical work in producing the newspaper was considered primary. Putting out the newspaper consumed excessive amounts of time from some people–leaving them little time to study theory (or attend advanced study groups had there been any).

There was no attempt by the PC to develop members either through study or struggle over line. In fact, the PC attempted to keep all struggle over political questions limited to the PC, often without even telling members of the struggle or of the result. For example, members of another group were eager to struggle over line with TNV. They gave copies of a position paper they had written to a TNV couple. But the PC refused to let the couple pass the paper out, saying that it was to be kept secret. Why was this struggle with an honest group which was asking for Marxist-Leninist criticism of their line, suppressed?

Another criticism some members had of TNV was in a particular area of trade union work. Some members felt that trade union work was being approached incorrectly, and that TNV was following a hit or miss line and being very unsuccessful. If one thing didn’t work, another tactic was tried. Explanations like “maybe our meetings were on the wrong night of the week”, or “at the wrong time”, or “maybe we should have a party afterward to attract more people” were given for our failure. There is nothing wrong in itself with this, but when these shifting tactics didn’t work the next logical step wasn’t taken. The next step should have been a re-examination of basic strategy or theoretical approach. But this was discouraged by the PC members who were involved in this work.

During Spring Semester, 1974, a similar problem developed in TNV’s student group. Specific issues of struggle on campus exposed its tactics as infantile leftist, and yet a re-examination of basic theory was discouraged.

Some members were growing more concerned over the fact that problems in the organization had been repeatedly labelled just “problems of growth”, “personality problems”, or communication and production problems. The PC consistently failed to consider error in theory as a possible source of problems. (By denying theoretical problems, the PC attempted to separate problems in practice from problems in theory.)

These and other problems were obvious, but it was not realized until the appearance of the ex-PC member’s paper that such things were developing as a result of the pragmatic world outlook of the PC. As the TNV membership polarized, the minority group recognized this pragmatic outlook, as illustrated in the following quote from their position paper written during the struggle:

Abandonment of Marxism-Leninism rather than putting it into practice; avoiding struggle rather than engaging in struggle (which is the dialectical method of resolving contradictions); covering over reflections of non-proletarian outlooks rather than developing working-class consciousness; embracing dishonest and unprincipled conduct rather than truth and science–this is the theory that is guiding TNV’s practice. This is the imperialist philosophy of pragmatism.


What were the specific issues around which the original struggle in TNV took place? The struggle began on the Political Committee. The issue was whether dishonesty (lies and distortions) and unprincipled conduct were to be tolerated by the PC. One member treated the rest of the PC to some gross examples of such conduct.[1] Consequently, the issue of unprincipled conduct and dishonesty had to be faced, and while some members originally opposed this behavior, they weren’t all that outraged by it. At the same time, there was a substantial minority on the PC consciously in favor of dishonesty and pragmatic expediency.

When one PC member insisted on making this an issue, again, some members began foot-dragging and showing a reluctance to face the issue. This was a manifestation of that “liberal” desire for peace and tranquility referred to earlier. When it became obvious that a head-on collision was going to occur, then these “liberal” PC members voted against the member who insisted that the issue be faced, because they thought that he would raise the least commotion after he lost. These people had no thought of voting on the principles at issue, but instead voted for what they thought would bring the greatest amount of “peace and quiet”. In illustration of this, these people in the period before the vote on these issues would change their position depending on whom they had talked to last. These “liberal” members represented the swing members on the vote, siding with the conscious pragmatists to “preserve peace”.

Thus the PC took a stand objectively defending (and hence supporting) dishonesty and unprincipled conduct. And characteristically, they performed this service to the organization by supporting, in an unprincipled, opportunistic way, something they knew to be basically untrue. The PC member who insisted that the PC face up to the issue of dishonesty and pragmatic expediency was accused of being the main obstacle to struggle in TNV. That is, he over-estimated the “objective” obstacles. Hence, objectivism. The issue of dishonesty came up in January, while the issue of “objectivism” was brought forward in March to distract from the real issue. To prevent a dishonest comrade from being chastised for unprincipled conduct, the other members of the PC saw nothing wrong in slandering the member of the PC who objected to the unprincipled and dishonest conduct. Nothing could have been more appropriate.

It is important to emphasize that they took this position because they all support a particular political point of view. They did not take this position because they wanted to defend a “friend”. The issue was not personal, but political.

Why did the members of the PC take this position? Why did their “liberal” attitude continue to operate when the issue was dishonesty and pragmatic expediency? The answer is that they saw nothing wrong with dishonesty and lack of principle.

In a capitalist society, a tolerant attitude toward dishonesty, falsehood, and other forms of unprincipled conduct is part of capitalist ideology. It has to be, since it reflects the day-to-day activity of businessmen, big and small. It takes many fonts. This capitalist attitude has been spreading among other classes in society. The great expansion of the mass media of communication, such as TV, has greatly facilitated the spread of bourgeois ideology among all classes in the U.S. As a result of this “education”, it showed up in TNV. Sometimes we assume that people who object to injustice and are willing to fight to oppose it (as all those on the PC had done) also are immune to this tolerance of dishonesty. But this is not so.

When the issue of “objectivism” was brought forward to shift attention away from the issue of dishonesty and unprincipled conduct, this attitude of tolerance for dishonesty shifted to one of open advocacy. How was this advocacy expressed?

A paraphrasing of what the members of the PC said will help to clarify the points they actually made:

Honesty is good, there is nothing wrong with honesty, but what is all this prejudice against dishonesty? After all dishonesty is quite often valuable, if it is used in a good cause.

Truth is good, there is no denying that. But what is all this prejudice against falsehood? Falsehood is fine, if used for a good cause. (One of the PC in their support for using falsehoods in a good cause referred to them as “principled distortions”.)

Principled behavior is good in itself, we suppose, but unprincipled behavior is fine too, if used in the interest of good political principles.

This is the point of view of the philosophy of pragmatism which we will look at more closely later on. So much for the paraphrasing. There are several points that must be made concerning the material contained above.

(1) Several members of the PC put forward the position that dishonesty and unprincipled behavior are personal behavior traits and not political issues. People presumably through inheritance and/or experience are honest or dishonest, red-haired or dark-haired, principled or unprincipled, shy or extroverted, etc. Of course, this is false. Petty bourgeois opportunism is obviously political.

(2) Secondly, this attitude of tolerance toward falsehood and lack of principle is the other side of the coin from a lack of an elementary respect for truth. This tolerance for falsehood is a fatal flaw. It undermines the ability to tell truth from falsehood; it interferes with the ability to form political judgements; to tell friends from enemies; etc. An elementary respect for truth is the basis for all rational activity. It is the basis for science, including Marxism-Leninism, A tolerance for falsehood is fatal to science, Marxism-Leninism, and all rational activity. The devotion to truth implies hatred and intolerance to falsehood. If you don’t have this, you have nothing. An elementary respect for truth and hostility to falsehood and dishonesty is the first principle of Marxism-Leninism and of all Marxist-Leninists. It is not only the first principle, it is the most important principle.


Where does this pragmatic (“use whichever works”) attitude toward truth and falsehood, honesty and dishonesty, and principled and unprincipled conduct come from? It comes from capitalist society. (Of course, all minority ruling classes exhibit a certain amount of pragmatic behavior.) The United States is the purest example of a capitalist society so far in history. This is so because there are fewer residues from previous social systems (e.g., feudalism). Capitalism gets its most thorough-going expression in the U.S. Also capitalist ideology is purer and has less admixture from other social systems. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology is disseminated more completely throughout the other classes of society than is the case in other capitalist countries. It is not surprising to find that some wage and salary earners in this country have a tolerant attitude toward dishonesty and lack of principle.

It may be in place at this point to clarify what is meant by lack of principle. What is meant is a lack of principle from a socialist or working-class point of view. As all Marxist-Leninists know, nobody’s actions are unprincipled as such. They are based on some class’s principles. When a socialist says that somebody’s actions are unprincipled, he or she is saying that they are unsocialist and that these are based on the principles of some class other than the working class. In this case, the unprincipled actions were those of a bourgeois or petty bourgeois individualist. That is, they were principled actions from the viewpoint of a bourgeois or petty bourgeois individualist–of a careerist or opportunist. But they were unprincipled from the viewpoint of the wage and salary earner class, or even from the point of view of the classes in feudal society. Therefore, from the point of view of the petty bourgeois or bourgeois individualist, the actions defended and taken by the members of the PC were not unprincipled. So much for this definition. Let us return to the attitudes generated by this most capitalist of all countries.

As we know, in a capitalist society in its oligopolistic or monopolistic phase, the ideology that is consciously taught the population is not only that of big business, but the ideology of the small businessman, i.e., petty bourgeois individualism. Let us take a closer look at this bourgeois ideology, especially in those areas where it bears on the issues we are concerned with in TNV.

The basic interest of the businessman, including the small businessman, is to make money by whatever means are necessary. This practice finds its most blatant expression in the philosophy of pragmatism. To the pragmatist the criterion of truth is “does it work?” Its criterion for principled behavior is “does it allow you to accomplish your goal?” For the businessman, the goal is the maximization of profits in the long run.

Of course, all petty bourgeois and bourgeois (ideologically speaking) are not businessmen. Some are politicians, labor hacks, academicians, civil servants, or even officials in left organizations. In this case, the goal may take the form of individual advancement instead of maximum profits, i.e., careerism or opportunism.

With the development of oligopoly, the need for a formal philosophy to systematize the businessman’s policy-making was felt with greater urgency. The large business organizations, as well as the government which now had a much larger role, needed this systematized business philosophy. Under oligopoly, the capitalist system needed greater and greater activity on the part of the government in order to function. It needed a large military and a large state department to seize and hold colonies. It also needed to increase its role in the domestic part of the economy to prevent long-term depressions and an untenable level of secular stagnation. Consequently, the philosophy of pragmatism was developed between the 1870’s and the present. Pragmatism is the one contribution of the U.S. capitalist intelligentsia to the field of philosophy. It is capitalist philosophy in its purest form. It is what we would expect from the most undiluted capitalist society in the world.

Incidentally, the development of the monopoly stage of capitalism also led to the greater development of salesmanship, with its emphasis on dishonesty and falsehood. This subject will be taken up in section IV.

A few quotes from the book by Harry K. Wells called Pragmatism will help to verify these points:

...Pragmatism is the name which has come to signify the particular view of life and mode of thought created by the entire capitalist class in the United States out of its material foundations and out of its corresponding social relations, (p. 14)

Maxim Gorky well understood the pragmatic type of thinking when in one of his pamphlets he put into the mouth of an American millionaire the assertion that “It is not the method but the result that counts.” This is in essence the basic principle of pragmatism, if it is possible to speak of principles in connection with a completely unprincipled philosophy.

Pragmatic thinking is the method of getting results regardless of the means employed. There is, for it, no objective measure of truth, thus the sole criterion is success. Anything goes, with no holds barred, so long as it “works.” The only relevant question is, “Does it advantage me?” If it does it is called “true” and “good,” if not, it is “false” and “bad.” (p.13)

...Bishop Berkeley had said “to be is to be perceived.” Peirce gives this subjective idealist doctrine a revised and peculiarly American twist, for the essential meaning of the above thesis is that to be is to have practical effects, or to be is to be useful. (p. 15)

...bourgeois ideologists in this country incorporated into the various phases of ideology the notions of expediency and usefulness as substitutes for science and truth. Expediency and usefulness were transformed from mere working dictums into broad philosophical “principles” which pervaded the entire ideology. (p. 17)

...Knowledge, thought, ideas, theories are instrumental in overcoming obstacles in the way of accomplishing goals. Ideas and theories are “true” if they work; if they lead to the goal...

Dewey calls this “the pragmatic conception of truth.” Any means that works is “good” and “true.” ...He sees “the serviceableness of an idea or hypothesis as a measure of its truth.” Whatever serves a purpose is “true” and “good.” “Utility” and “serviceableness” are simply other terms for expediency. Whatever is expedient to a person or a class is “true” and “good.” Compare this with James’ statements “The true, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.” (p. 147)

Pragmatism offers expedient opportunism as the alternative to the scientific method. Opportunism is the taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances with little or no regard for principles or ultimate consequences, (p. 192)

The above is a perfect description of the Political Committee’s view of truth and right behavior (what is in reality dishonest and unprincipled conduct). To members of the PC truth or right conduct is that which is convenient. If it is inconvenient for the career of an individualist, then it couldn’t be true. Or conversely, if a hypothesis (e.g., objectivism) is useful for getting you off the hook, then it is true. This is the philosophy of pragmatism, the philosophy of U.S. imperialism–the only major contribution of the U.S. to the field of philosophy. And what true representatives of U.S. capitalist philosophy the remaining members of the PC and TNV are.

To the pragmatist, the scientific or Marxist-Leninist distinction between truth and falsehood, principled and unprincipled conduct and honesty and dishonesty disappears. They (including the remaining members of TNV) just do not understand such distinctions. If they believe that a good cause is being served, then any means to reach that goal are justified. (Remember those “principled distortions”.) Thus, what initially appears to be falsehood, dishonesty, and unprincipled conduct becomes in reality (the pragmatist’s reality) “truth”, “honesty”, and “principled conduct”, since they enable you to reach your goal–the good cause (e.g., a career as leader). In other words the conventional distinction between truth and falsehood, etc., disappears. This helps us understand the attitude of the members of the PC to these questions. They have the pragmatist’s lack of understanding of this elementary distinction.

As an illustration of the pragmatist’s difficulty in understanding the distinction between honesty and dishonesty, etc., a recent example will be given. While waiting for a club meeting to begin, several members of the club discussed in an enthusiastic manner how to steal from the gas company. One of these persons was a PC member.

This club meeting occurred only about a month after the meeting where the PC had been castigated for dishonesty. But this PC member seemed completely unaware of doing anything reprehensible. He obviously did not understand the distinction between honesty and dishonesty.

As a contrast to the pragmatist’s expedient attitude toward the means used to gain ends that are considered worthwhile, we can turn to William Ash:

The morality of means must be considered in terms of a normative judgement about ends; and it will be found that the effort to preserve a system incorporating obvious injustices and the effort to reorganize society on a more equitable basis, color through and through the respective means employed to achieve one end or the other. (William Ash, Marxism and Moral Concepts, p. 162)

In order to illustrate that the political character of the ends determine to a great extent the political character of the means chosen, the following example is given:

The abracadabra of U.N. sponsorship does not and cannot hide the nature of the Korean war as being in origin a counter-revolutionary coup d’etat engineered by a desperate and completely unpopular Rhee clique of traitors at the behest of its creators and maintainers–the American ruling class. And this–the way in which the war is being conducted–is the irrefutable reply to the verbal facade erected by the “liberal” pallbearers gathered prematurely for democracy’s burial.

The New Republic (August 21, 11950]) may lament MacArthur’s “area bombings” as “a weapon of indiscriminate destruction”, but the heavy-hearted mass murderer remains a mass murderer. Lewis Mumford may plead in the New York Herald-Tribune for the greater efficiency, in a political and military sense, of the old-fashioned artillery and infantry rather than B-29’s and gasoline-filled half-ton bombs and atomic weapons and bacteriological warfare; but the techniques of an army reflect it politics, and the overwhelming inhumanity of modern imperialism’s weapons mirrors the inhumanity of modern imperialism’s nature. (Herbert Aptheker, American Foreign Policy & The Cold War, p. 147.)

The above example illustrates the point that the character of a person’s politics and political goals is often discerned by observing the type of means he uses to attain those goals.

Why was it that such petty bourgeois attitudes were not noticed before? How could so many of the more prominent members have been pragmatic in their attitudes and none were really aware of it? The answer is that dishonesty and lack of principle is such a part of the U.S. way of life, it is such a constant, that we tend not to notice it. Something that is everywhere tends to become invisible.

At the same time, there is a tendency to assume that self-proclaimed Marxists are repelled by all aspects of capitalism, when in fact they are not. Individualist opportunism and dishonesty often are not recognized as part of capitalist ideology for the simple reason that they are not recognized as opportunism and dishonesty. For example, some people think that “ripping off the ripoff artists” is an anti-capitalist, pro-socialist act. These attitudes and behavior patterns are assumed to be natural or characteristic of all societies if they are thought of at all. But these attitudes are often invisible to many people in the U.S. Consequently, they do not recognize these attitudes as dishonest or unprincipled. To quote Caudwell when he was discussing another aspect of bourgeois ideology:

But it is just because it appears everywhere in his ideology, like the Fitzgerald contraction, in measurements of ether velocity, that it cannot be observed by the bourgeois, any more than the physicist can observe the earth’s speed through the ether. (C. Caudwell, Studies and Further Studies in a Dying Culture, pp. XXII-XXIII.)

If this is the case, why weren’t these issues taken up in study groups? Again, because some just assumed that people who claimed to hate capitalism would also hate all aspects of capitalist ideology. But as mentioned before, people like the PC members did not recognize these things as principal characteristics of capitalist ideology.

The characteristic behavior of the businessmen in the pursuit of profits includes dishonesty, unprincipled opportunism, and the pragmatic use of any means he can get away with. The businessman is not always dishonest. Sometimes the road to profit and success is through honesty, through being reliable–but not often.

Nevertheless the ideal, the heroic deed, is one involving fraud, whether it is illegal or not. In other words, the capitalist hero is the successful “hustler”. In U.S. literature from David Harum through Stalag 17 to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the hero is often the “hustler”. To the “hustler”, the more dishonesty used, the more brazen the use of unprincipled means, the more outrageous the tactics–the more glorious the accomplishment. This bourgeois hero is the meeting ground of pragmatism with the great man thesis and elitism. Of course, for public and popular acceptance this hero, who is completely unprincipled in the pursuit of private advantage, always at the finish reverses himself and devotes himself to the public welfare. But this is for popular consumption only. The real “hustler” does no such thing unless the public welfare happens to coincide with his private advantage, which isn’t often.

Nevertheless, the more outrageous the successful deed, the more unprincipled the means used, the more admirable is the capitalist hero. Mark Twain put his finger on this characteristic in his “Revised Catechism” of 1871, in which he attacks the New York City business community through their political instrument, the Tweed Ring:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To get rich.
Q. In what way?
A. Dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must. (Mark Twain, On the Damned Human Race, p. 72.)

We have always heard the story of the salesman’s ideal accomplishment–which is to sell an icebox to an Eskimo. That is, the ideal is to sell somebody something he obviously has no use for, the ultimate accomplishment for the successful liar. Veblen cites a variation of this sentiment, when he says that the ideal in salesmanship is “to promise everything and deliver nothing”. And business enterprise is an enterprise in salesmanship. The businessman is first, last, and always a salesman.

To many people (who usually had a pre-capitalist training and outlook), it was the dishonesty and unprincipled conduct that characterized business culture which was one of its most repulsive aspects, For example, to Swift, Balzac, Gorky, and Veblen, this was the case. Veblen, the most famous social scientist produced by the U.S., gave much attention to this aspect of capitalism in his analysis of the system. He pointed out that the normal practices of the businessman were corrupt and unprincipled, and were gradually degrading and corrupting the whole of society. Veblen’s characterization of capitalist culture and society in this most capitalist of countries was devastating. His hatred of the capitalist hustler was thorough, complete, and unlimited. He often dwelled at great length on one or another aspect of the “hustler’s” characteristics. For instance, in the process of discussing salesmanship, the issue of falsehood, dishonesty and lack of principle comes up:

...The beginning of wisdom in salesmanship is equivocation. There is a decent measure of equivocation which runs its course on the hither side of prevarication or duplicity, and an honest salesman–such “an honest man as will bear watching”–will endeavor to confine his best efforts to this highly moral zone where stands the upright man who is not under oath to tell the whole truth. But “self-preservation knows no moral law”; and it is not to be overlooked that there habitually enter into the retail trade of the country towns many competitors who do not falter at prevarication and who even do not hesitate at outright duplicity; and it will not do for an honest man to let the rogues get away with the best–or any–of the trade, at the risk of too narrow a margin of profit on his own business–that is to say a narrower margin than might be had in the absence of scruple. And then there is always the base-line of what the law allows; and what the law allows can not be far wrong. Indeed, the same presumption will be that whoever lives within the law has no need to quarrel with his conscience. And a sound principle will be to improve the hour today and, if worse comes to worst, let the courts determine tomorrow, under protest, just what the law allows, and therefore what the moral code exacts. And then, too, it is believed and credible that the courts will be wise enough to see that the law is not allowed to apply with such effect as to impede the volume or narrow the margins of business-as-usual.

“He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, Who dare not put it to the touch” and take a chance with the legalities and the moralities for once in a way, when there is easy money in sight and no one is looking... (Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership, pp. 157-158.)

Or again in analyzing real estate, the issue of principle comes up:

Real estate is an enterprise in “futures”, designed to get something for nothing from the unwary, of whom it is believed by experienced persons that “there is one born every minute.” So, farmers and townsmen together throughout the great farming region are pilgrims of hope looking forward to the time when the community’s advancing needs will enable them to realise on the inflated values of their real estate, or looking more immediately to the chance that one or another of those who are “born every minute” may be so ill advised as to take them at their word and become their debtors in the amount which they say their real estate is worth. (Veblen, Absentee Ownership, pp. 143-144.)

So it can be seen that dishonesty and lack of principle are basic parts of the operation of the capitalist system particularly in its monopoly capitalist phase.

Capitalism grew out of its competitive phase with its emphasis on price competition into the monopoly phase with its emphasis on salesmanship and pragmatic manipulation of strategic variables. This Led to great emphasis on salesmanship and pragmatic (expedient) manipulation, not only as the principal means of economic competition, but as principal parts of the ideology of monopoly capitalism (imperialism).

As we have seen, salesmanship is based on falsehood and deception. Pragmatic manipulation requires total lack of principle. Consequently, two principal characteristics of monopoly capitalist ideology are dishonesty and lack of principle.

This is not to say that there are any of us who are free from the taint of dishonesty and lack of principle. All of us have committed dishonest acts to some extent. Sometimes we commit dishonesty unconsciously. Sometimes we do it because to avoid it we would have to create a big scene, alienate friends, work-associates, etc. In a criminal society it is hard to avoid participating in criminal activity. But doing a little of it because it is difficult to avoid is an entirely different matter from open and militant advocacy.

Thus The New Voice has a Political Committee all of whose members have come out as advocates of dishonesty and lack of principle. They have established these two basic positions of monopoly capitalism as basic positions of TNV. It is not a matter of the PC merely being tolerant of these attitudes, it is a matter of open and conscious advocacy. This issue was fought out on the PC over a period of four months. There had been a further cooling off period of another four months before the September conference. None of the members of the PC had shown the slightest sign of changing their position on this issue. Therefore, it was not a question of re-educating these people through struggle–at least in the short run.

The political issues involved were not trivial; instead they were the most basic theoretical issues possible for a socialist organization. Respect for truth is the most elementary and important principle for Marxist-Leninists, while principled conduct (which follows from respect for truth) is the second. They really are one.


The lines that had been sharpening on the PC over a period of several months finally resulted in a split. When in April the majority of the PC voted in favor of dishonesty and unprincipled conduct, the member who had opposed such behavior resigned from the Political Committee. The PC then tried to keep knowledge of the struggle from reaching the members of TNV.

In the summer of 1974, a general membership conference was approaching in TNV. It is the duty of all members of a Marxist-Leninist organization to bring forward their differences on ideological and policy matters in this period. Thus all the principal issues are known prior to the conference where they can consequently be discussed and decided intelligently. A failure of a member to bring forward such differences would be considered criminally irresponsible in a Marxist-Leninist organization.

When in this period immediately preceding the conference, the ex-PC member initiated the struggle by bringing the issue to the membership, he was expelled from TNV.

The opportunists charged him with trying to wreck TNV. They initiated diversionary attacks to distract members from the real struggle. They criticized the way his paper was distributed. They called him a dropout and a reactionary. They said he didn’t give any evidence to support his charge that the PC had upheld dishonesty and unprincipled behavior and then criticized him for giving too much evidence, etc. Immediately, too, there were further attempts to suppress the struggle over these two lines. The opportunist group tried to get the membership to categorically repudiate the ex-PC member’s line (and therefore to support the PC’s line) before the PC had even issued its line.

The PC is supposed to circulate all members’ discussion papers in the period before the conference, but the PC refused to circulate opposition papers. They would only circulate papers that supported their position. Some members wrote a leaflet which supported the line of the ex-PC member and asked the PC to distribute it. The reply to this request was that the PC was “collating all individual responses and will distribute them as a package after the general discussion over the two lines.”[2] In other words, the PC was suppressing all polemics but its own. Later in the struggle, two other members wrote a paper which was similarly suppressed by the PC. (As an aside, the collated polemics that the PC handed out after the struggle included only the initial paper of the ex-PC member and its own papers and people were told that the minority had never responded. So, the PC lied twice on this issue alone–all in the cause of suppressing struggle.)

The PC issued a paper in response to the one issued by the ex-PC member. They did not even deal with the question of dishonesty and unprincipled behavior. The PC’s paper completely ignored the struggle over pragmatism and instead rubber-stamped the opportunists’ line on objectivism. They tried to confuse members by making it appear that the struggle was objectivism versus pragmatism (i.e., that if the ex-PC member were objectivist then there hadn’t been any dishonesty.) They lied to make people think that the issue of objectivism had come up first. In fact, objectivism was brought forward months after the dishonesty issue in attempts to divert attention. Then the PC proceeded to lie and distort to “prove” the trumped-up objectivism charge in order to avoid dealing with the real issue of dishonest and unprincipled conduct. In this paper, they lied about actions* proposals, and lines of the ex-PC member as well as things that happened on the PC, They also distorted an article written by the ex-PC member by quoting selectively from it. They tried to make the “quote” look like it was objectivist by omitting the middle paragraph and a half of the quoted section.

When it became clear that some TNV members supported the ex-PC member, the opportunist group greatly intensified the lies, distortions, and manipulation. They brought up “charges” against the members who opposed the PC and took away their work and organizational rights. They later dropped the charges against all but one of the members when they saw that these tactics were having an adverse effect on uncommitted members. However, all the previously charged members were in effect suspended. The opportunists then lied, saying there never had been charges against the others, even though they had given a list of the charges in written form to another TNV person. They tried to prevent discussion on the question of pragmatism by strictly limiting discussion between the supporters and the opponents of the charges of pragmatism–to talk with other TNV members was a violation of democratic centralism, they said.

All of these attempts to suppress the struggle involved lying and the abuse or misuse of positions of authority.

The PC responded to the charges of being dishonest, unprincipled, manipulative, and abusing positions of authority by lying, being unprincipled, manipulating, and abusing positions of authority. They completely confirmed, through their actions in this period, the charges brought against them by the ex-PC member.

Who Are the Splitters?

When the members who objected to pragmatic behavior were forced out of TNV, the PC tried to turn this to their own advantage. They labelled the persons forced out as “splitters”. But, who are the real splitters? As is apparent from the above section, it is the hardcore pragmatists of TNV who are the splitters.

Soon after the ex-PC member distributed his paper, he was expelled. Though no formal announcement of his expulsion was made (even to him), he was not notified of the conference time and place. Members who talked with him were condemned for talking to “a person outside of TNV”. Immediately after other members made their position in opposition to the PC known, they were barred from the place where the newspaper was produced–thus, de facto, they were suspended from much of their technical work in TNV. When charges were brought against the critics of the PC, there was discussion in the clubs as to what studying, etc. they would have to do to be re-instated in TNV. So, again, members were de facto expelled, though no formal announcement was made to them.

When the opportunist core was certain it had the votes to win at the conference, it allowed the “opposition” to vote at the beginning of the conference on the issue of ”Objectivism versus Marxism-Leninism”. This was the last and only function to be allowed to the members of the “opposition”, and they were not given copies of either the Political Report or the Agenda prior to the conference, as were supporters of the PC. Following the vote they were to be allowed to stay for the discussion of what to do with the “opposition” or “faction”, as they were referred to. That is, what would the “faction” have to do in order to be “re-instated”. It had become clear that they would be expelled (like the ex-PC member) if they would not permanently recant. Consequently, at this point the “faction” resigned.

When an organization expels members who oppose it, refuses to distribute opposition papers, and lies and abuses positions of authority to try to prevent struggle so that members can no longer struggle within it but are forced to do so from outside, it forces a split. Thus, it is the PC of TNV which is the real splitter.


During the debate, the Political Committee members denied that they were guilty of dishonesty, manipulative behavior, and abuse of positions of authority. However, at the last moment, since their activities during the debate had proved conclusively the opposite, they reversed themselves and came out with a theoretical defense of dishonesty and pragmatic expediency.

In September of 1974, several days prior to the conference, the Political Committee issued its theoretical justification for its unprincipled conduct, “Morality and the Class Struggle”, This polemic attempted to rationalize the PC’s overt policy of lying, manipulating and generally unprincipled behavior by claiming that such behavior was necessary for the class struggle to reach its end goal of the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Ostensibly, their position was that such morality was part and parcel of proletarian morality and was objectively determined by the nature of classes in capitalist society. In reality, it was a statement condoning pragmatic, petty bourgeois morality as practiced by members of the Political Committee.

Analysis of “Morality and the Class Struggle”

It is argued in “Morality and the Class Struggle” that morality is not universal, but is determined by the objective relationships of classes to the process of production. It is also argued that in the course of revolutionary activity, communists will have to engage in deliberate deception. With such statements there is no quarrel. But this is not where the PC leaves the matter. They attempt to justify their own unprincipled action with regard to their own comrades by linking manipulative, deceitful acts within a communist orqanization to acts committed by revolutionaries against the ruling class in the course of revolution.

The law of morality against stealing arises in a society having private property, and...serves the interest of the maintenance of the private property system. This is what the author [the critic of unprincipled behavior] assumes to be an eternal law....This is why he is able to say that we are immoral if we steal from the gas company. No reason based on the proletarian cause is given... (“Morality and the Class Struggle”, p. 2)

Two pages later, a discussion follows on how a member of China’s Eighth Route Army deceived a Japanese commander. An argument follows that such an act is to be revered and the perpetrator of the act honored. Agreed. This communist was a brave and loyal comrade who risked his own life for the benefit of many. The paper then goes on:

Such are the absurdities of teaching that all dishonesty is immoral or “unprincipled”. Such is the absurdity of illustrating proletarian morality with examples like theft from the gas company. (“Morality and the Class Struggle”, p. 4)

Communists will lie, steal, and use violence as dictated by the nature of the foe they are fighting, the class enemy...(“Morality and the Class Struggle”, p. 5)

...Marxist-Leninists make no blanket condemnation of theft, no charge that to be a thief is to stoop to the code of the bourgeoisie. There can very well be cases when the Party will have to steal from the gas company in order to carry out the class struggle. (“Morality and the Class Struggle”, p. 8)

The correct position is not that communists can never lie, steal or deliberately deceive. The correct position is that communists can never lie to, steal from or deliberately deceive revolutionary comrades. The PC attempts to equate the revolutionary valor of a Chinese communist whose actions were directed against the Japanese invaders with their own manipulations and dishonesty directed against members of their own organization. They also attempt to do the same with regard to theft from the gas company. What mockery of revolutionary ardor–to publicly state that petty theft for individual gain is in the workers’ cause! To be sure, cases may well be drawn up where such theft is revolutionary. But this was their answer to a specific charge leveled against a specific act! In reality, as businessmen include the costs of stolen goods in their price, which are then passed on to the consumers, this “revolutionary” was feathering his pocket at the expense of other workers.

The PC focussed on petty theft to avoid dealing with the main thrust of the ex-PC member’s paper and to find some common denominator around which to consolidate its forces. As the paper frankly admits, PC members have engaged in theft. The PC is attempting to justify these acts under the guise of revolutionary activity and, at the same time, attempting to convince those people in the organization who are having trouble making up their minds on this issue that they have something in common with the PC–i.e., theft. It becomes quite apparent that the PC agrees with the charges levelled by the ex-PC member. The PC condones lying and stealing while attempting to mask such anti-communist behavior under quotes by Lenin, et. al. which are entirely out of context in the present situation. The PC has concentrated its venom on theft, while the ex-PC member’s paper dealt primarily with lying and uncomradely manipulation. To lie to one’s comrades is to break the bonds of trust upon which Marxist organizations are built. This is the charge developed in the ex-PC member’s paper–this is the charge the PC consistently dodged.

The PC’s paper continues:

...the author raises the hoary old riddle of the liberal, the question of means and ends. He says, “If they [the members of the PC] believe that a good cause is being served, then any means to reach that goal are justified.” ...It would apply equally well in criticism of Chao, the Chinese guerrilla leader described above.... (“Morality and the Class Struggle”, p. 6)

The above quote was directed against the charge that members of the PC were engaging in “principled distortions”, i.e., lying to their comrades. The PC would have us believe that communists, in fact, are permitted to engage in such activity in general, without distinguishing class friends from enemies. (In this, we observe the liberal, opportunist, pragmatic position that the PC had taken.) One cannot, in fact, justify any means to reach the desired goal (see p. 9). The point is that the scientifically determined end itself determines the means. And those means do not include lyinq to one’s comrades or to the workers in general.

To the individualist–the consummate pragmatist, there is no such thing as a “friend”. This type of person patterns his behavior on that of the small businessman, and to the small businessman, life in capitalist society is life in a jungle–it is dog-eat-dog. All other individuals, whether capitalist or socialist, whether in or out of the revolutionary organization, are either active or passive “enemies” and are to be treated as such. This does not mean that the pragmatic “hustler” will not be friendly or honest. He or she will be if it furthers his or her career. But if individual interests dictate a different tactic, then honesty will turn into dishonesty, truth into falsehood, and comradely behavior into expedient manipulation. Since theory cannot be separated from practice, pragmatic individualism eventually results in careerist opportunism. The paper concludes:

To frustrate an examination of his objectivism, the author [critic of the PC’s pragmatic behavior] had to put forward an alternative political analysis. Therefore, he not only had to make charges of dishonesty and unprincipled conduct...he also had to set forth a complete moral philosophy around these charges. (“Morality and the Class Struggle, p. 11)

What complete and utter admission of the exactness of the charges leveled in this paper! The PC in its theoretical justification for its unprincipled conduct concludes its polemic with a gross lie. As is evidenced in the main body of this paper, the issue of objectivism came up months after the initial charge of unprincipled conduct was directed against a member of the PC.

In summary, we find that the PC pragmatically defends it own acts by attempting to place those acts within the framework of revolutionary activity. As well, throughout the entire article, not one mention is made of how communists behave toward workers– nothing of Mao’s rules of conduct for the Eighth Route Army (pay for what you eat, etc.). The unprincipled behavior of members of the PC with regard to their relationship to members of their own organization is couched in the revolutionary phrasemongering of “serving the cause”. What cause, one might ask? The cause of the workers, or the cause of the careerism of members of the PC?

It is interesting that the PC should put forward the position that any class may find dishonesty and falsehood in its class interests and hence could be adopted as basic principles, in the pursuit of its class goals. This, of course, is false. Only minority ruling classes and potential minority ruling classes have a basic interest in the various systems of fraud. The interest of the majority of humanity is always in truth and honesty. This is so despite the special cases that arise where deception has to be used in dealing with representatives of the ruling class. Minority ruling classes (whether capitalist, feudal, or slave-owning) need falsehood and dishonesty (fraud) in order to maintain their positions. In a class society, the majority needs the maximum of truth, honesty, and knowledge in order to gain their class consciousness and consequently their freedom and independence. In a classless society only truth, honesty, and increasing knowledge are conceivable.

This essay “Morality and the Class Struggle” represents the ultimate confession of intellectual bankruptcy. For an organization claiming to be Marxist-Leninist to come out and attempt to defend dishonesty and manipulation indicates an advanced state of disorientation.

What is Communist Morality?

As Engels reminds us, “...men, consciously or unconsciously, derive their moral ideas in the last resort from the practical relations on which their class position is based–from the economic relations in which they carry on production and exchange.” (F. Engels, Anti-Duhrinq in Selsam and Martel, Reader in Marxist Philosophy, pp. 251-2). That is, all morality is class determined. That which facilitates exploitation is the morality of exploiting classes. That which facilitates a decent, non-exploitative society will be the morality of the working class.

In class society where the proletariat is not the ruling class, the morality of workers will be determined by two principal factors. Initially, there is their objective relationship to the production process. Being in an exploited situation, workers organize to achieve a better sale of their labor power, improve their working conditions, etc. The morality which is determined by the necessity of this class position will be, in the long-run, that morality which is objectively determined by the workers’ role in production under capitalism. But, in a class society, the ruling class determines the ideological superstructure of that society. A worker’s morality is largely determined by his or her training, and that training is determined by the capitalists under capitalism. As well, workers, like all people, are influenced by what they observe to be the behavior of the ruling class.

For example, we observe that some workers steal or lie. That is, they act in an individualist fashion to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Is this proletarian morality? No! Such behavior is bourgeois morality as practiced by some workers. We know that one cannot steal from the businessman. He views such theft as part of his cost of operations and merely includes them in the price of the commodity which is being sold. Thus, when a worker steals, he is really stealing from fellow workers. Carried further, such activity mitigates what proletarian morality should be. Individualism of any form is antithetical to cooperation and cooperative or collective morality is what is necessitated for workers in order to benefit their class.

This is not to say that the capitalist desires that workers should behave like capitalists. Such behavior is not in the capitalists’ interests in the long run. The capitalists, like all minority ruling classes, develop two sets of moral codes. One is disseminated through the various media to wage and salary earners. This is the morality that facilitates the exploitation of the lower classes by the capitalists. This lower-class morality includes such precepts as honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty to the capitalist government, respect for authority, striving for individual success, etc.

The upper-class morality is taught privately in the home, the club and the office. The capitalist is taught to be opportunistic, i.e., to be pragmatic. One should be honest or dishonest, loyal or disloyal, etc., depending upon what serves one’s individual interests the best. In a monopoly capitalist society in an advanced state of decay, dishonesty, falsehood, and unprincipled manipulation, etc., are much more in demand than their opposites.

As the society moves more and more into crisis, the unprincipled behavior of the ruling class becomes more open. The lower classes see this behavior and more and more of them begin to adopt the morality of the capitalists as their own. Seeing that this morality is practiced by the most “successful” members of society, workers begin, consciously or unconsciously, to emulate members of the upper class. As well, much of the intellectual superstructure, the ideology, is in the hands of petty bourgeois intellectuals. In framing what they think to be the most appropriate morality for the working class, they will have a tendency to teach their own individualistic outlook on things. Thus, dishonesty of all kinds, unprincipled, manipulative behavior, pragmatic expediency begin to spread among a greater and greater portion of wage and salary earners. The degenerate morality of the ruling class of a dying society progressively pollutes wider segments of the underlying classes of that society. This is one of the inevitable results of a society in crisis.

No society can function for long with a substantial proportion of the population acting like a parasitic minority ruling class. Only a small proportion of society can be dishonest, parasitic, and pragmatically manipulative for any length of time. Otherwise, that society will fall apart. A healthily functioning society is based on trust and cooperation. Thus, it is based on the honesty and dependability of the great majority of its members. It is impossible to have a society made up mostly of “hustlers”. The capitalist society of the U.S. is one in which the hustler ideology is gradually spreading among the lower classes. Consequently, the U.S. capitalist society is one that is gradually coming apart at the seams. This spread of the “hustler” philosophy is strong evidence of the approaching collapse. It may also become a contributing cause to such a collapse.

The objective proletarian morality can be best delineated by asking the question as to what proletarian morality will be when the workers form the ruling class, or, even more so, when classes have been eliminated altogether. In the period of transition to communism, the bourgeois superstructure will be eliminated and, thus, bourgeois training as well. A true workers’ morality can then be observed to be developing, reaching fruition under communism. And what will this morality be? It will be that which will produce a true collectivist spirit, that which will serve to unleash the productive powers that people are capable of and which will produce a society with economic and social well-being for all. Such a morality will include total honesty, selflessness, hospitality, openness–all that produces comradeship and “oneness”.

The transition to this proletarian morality can be best seen now in communists. Communists are the vanguard of the proletariat. As such they must now be objectively (as far as possible) what the worker will be in the future. It is realized, of course, that with a capitalist background and training, they can only be imperfectly so. Communist morality must be the morality which is necessary to bring about successful socialist revolution. It is a morality determined by and limited by the ends of revolution. To have successful revolution, one must have a party. To have a real Communist party, we must have people who display the characteristics of future proletarian morality–honesty, reliability, etc.–within that party and in their relationships with workers in general. These characteristics are necessary for trust and cooperation. Communists are the transitional link between present workers’ morality, mutilated as it is by the existence of capitalist society, and that of the future. This future morality is necessitated now so that the future may become reality. If we, as communists, do not develop this true proletarian morality, then there can be no trust, and without trust there can be no party. And, obviously, without a party, there can be no successful revolution. Without such morality, we will act like capitalists. That is, we will engage in overt individualism, and we all are cognizant of the fact that individualism is antithetical to collective behavior and organizing.

Again referring to William Ash:

After all, what can justify any means except the end? And yet because the end also conditions the means of attaining it, Marxism would never argue that all means whatsoever may be employed. The very aim of uniting the international working class to put an end to exploitation logically rules out, even for short-term advantages in this place or that, any appeal to particularist or divisive interests like racism or chauvinism, any incitement to action not based on the fundamental equality of all men everywhere. The morality of means must be considered in terms of a normative judgement about ends; and it will be found that the efforts to preserve a system incorporating obvious injustices and the effort to reorganize society on a more equitable basis, color through and through the respective means employed to achieve one end or the other. (William Ash, Marxism and Moral Concepts, pp. 161-162.)

Now, all this is not to say that in the course of the class struggle we cannot engage occasionally in dishonesty. Surely we must. But when? And against whom must we direct this dishonesty? The nature of the struggle itself dictates that we can be dishonest when dealing with our class enemies when we can’t avoid it. Of course we can lie if incarcerated by the police. By lying to the State, to the representatives of our enemy, we are, in fact, being honest with our comrades; we are carrying forward the struggle.


Is there anything to be learned from the experience of the split in TNV? Was there anything new that came out in this struggle that we were not aware of before and is of significance for the communist movement as a whole? The answer is yes to both questions.

Little has been written in this country about the spread of pragmatism and pragmatic behavior among the working class and its communist organizations. The experience of the struggle within TNV has demonstrated both the widespread existence of pragmatic attitudes in left organizations as well as the disastrous effects of pragmatic practices.

TNV had been a healthy and growing organization. It had carried on reasonably successful struggles and was relatively strong in theory. But once the pragmatists got control of the leadership the organization began to deteriorate. Its role in external struggles was reduced. It began to show increasing signs of theoretical incompetence.

It is enlightening to examine the progress and spread of dishonesty and pragmatic expediency in TNV once it was consciously defended. Where once this behavior was sporadic, under pressure of self-defense, it became widespread.

Once under attack, the progress of pragmatic expediency was most rapid. The hard-core became totally dishonest–totally corrupt. This progression appeared not to bother them at all. The liberal, peace-loving fringe group, who at the beginning were merely tolerant of pragmatic expediency, became increasingly dishonest and manipulative. Most of the members of the fringe group have given signs that they are uncomfortable with their new behavior patterns and philosophy. But so far, they have not drawn back. And the probabilities appear to be that if they continue along the road they are traveling now, they will become as conscienceless, dishonest, and unprincipled as the group they are following.

Most left wing organizations may feel that the issue of pragmatic expediency or of dishonesty has no application to their groups. They may feel this way because there are few cases of comrades lying to or manipulating other comrades. This was the case in The New Voice. Until one member, for careerist opportunist reasons, began to lie and manipulate, members were honest and straight-forward with one another. But once the issue was raised, the tolerant attitude toward pragmatic expediency came to the fore. This “liberal”, “pacifist” attitude was not particularly evident in these members before this problem arose. Therefore, a lack of evidence of dishonesty and “liberal” corruption does not prove that this pragmatic tolerance for dishonesty is not there. Measures should be taken to counteract this most insidious of capitalist ideologies as part of an ongoing critical evaluation of an organization and its members.

Once the issue was raised, those “tolerant” members who decided for various reasons to actively defend this pragmatic philosophy began to go downhill very rapidly. They lied and manipulated at an accelerating tempo. Once the ideology of dishonesty and pragmatic expediency is embraced, the progress of the corruption of standards is very rapid. The results are similar to that which Gorky noted in the writings of the White emigres on Lenin’s death.

Never have human stupidity and malice unfolded before me in such grandeur. The things they write, the things they say! Truly these people are merciless towards themselves, to bare their rottenness so cynically. It is very painful to see how rapidly unburied corpses decompose. (Lenin and Gorky, Letters, Reminiscences, Articles, p. 254.)

What is the objective role of pragmatic individualists both in general and in left organizations in particular?

Pragmatists are the embodiment–in fact the very epitome–of capitalist ideology and behavior in the era of monopoly capitalism (i.e., imperialism). These conscienceless “hustlers” are the representative figures of our era. We expect to see this type on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Most people do not expect to see them in socialist organizations. This popular conception is unfortunately an illusion.

Opportunistic careerists make their appearance only too frequently in left-wing organizations. They may not appear as consistently as they do on Madison Avenue, but pragmatists show up often enough to represent a major threat to the integrity of the communist movement in this country.

Pragmatic “hustlers” represent the same thing in communist organizations as they represent on Wall Street–capitalist ideology and practice. If these pragmatic careerists succeed in getting control of such organizations (and by the very definition of a careerist, they will try to do so), these groups will become pro-capitalist and anti-communist. With such leadership they could not be anything else. They will lead people into a dead-end.

With their manipulative practices and dishonesty, they will sooner or later demoralize the members of their organizations. Many of those that they affect will be ruined for any further left wing activity. They will become cynical. Many will think, “If you can’t even trust people on the left, who can you trust?” Demoralization of potential revolutionaries is a signal service for the preservation of imperialism.

In conclusion, it can be said that pragmatism and its ally, an easy-going tolerance (or a “liberal” lack of principle), represent a major threat to the communist movement in this country. It may even be the main threat.

The attitude that a little dishonesty, manipulation, and hustling for what you want (in the organization) is perfectly all right–perfectly natural–is wrong. Such an attitude embraces capitalist ideology as “natural”. As we have seen in The New Voice, such an attitude is fatal to the organization. Lying to comrades and attempting to manipulate the organization are not Marxist-Leninist acts. These actions are capitalist to the core.

So, what must be done? Left organizations must take a critical and hardnosed attitude toward any pragmatic behavior that crops up in their group. Pragmatism must be exposed, criticized and defeated from its onset. To take a liberal attitude toward dishonesty and opportunism is to allow this cancer to grow and fester until it destroys the organization itself. This disease must be eradicated at the first sign so that the organization may remain healthy, grow, and help in carrying out the historic mission of the working class.


[1] Although documentation of these unprincipled behaviors is available to us through the ex-PC member’s and others’ personal notes, the remaining members of TNV have since lied about these events by stating they never occurred. Therefore, we prefer to document TNV’s pragmatic behavior by using examples that occurred once the struggle became public to the membership in August, 1974. These latter are easily verified by experiences of several people, as well as by written documents.

[2] quoted from a written communication from the PC.