First Published: Forward to the Party! Struggle for the Party!, No. 4, [n.d.].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of several issues of the special journal on the programme (and other documents) of the party. The purpose of this journal is to provide an important forum for discussion and struggle around the programme (and other documents) among all future party members.
None of these articles represents the line of the RU; none has been approved (or disapproved) by leadership bodies of the RU on any level. Instead these articles represent the opinions, criticisms and suggestions of particular comrades based on their study of these specific points of the draft programme (and other documents) and their own summation around them.
For this issue of the journal, as with the last one, a tremendous number of articles were submitted. This reflects the fact that the central importance of forming the party now is being more thoroughly grasped by all comrades. It further reflects the fact that the process of forming the party from the bottom up, and linking theory with practice in discussion and struggle, is developing and deepening. All this is laying the firmest foundation for carrying the process through and forming the party, united to carry out the correct line as the advanced detachment of the working class.
In this issue of the journal we have limited the number of articles and printed those which most focus the discussion and struggle around the main points and will enable the journal to further this process the most at this time. For this reason many articles, which were submitted but did not concentrate on these main focuses, were not printed. But, whether or not they appear in the journal the articles submitted will make an important contribution to the process of forming the party and will be used in one form or another as part of the process.
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In the course of summing up the work in our area on the local workers newspaper, we have come to essentially the same conclusion as indicated by the DP and other documents about the papers. We think that the party’s approach to newspapers should be quite different from that used in the past. In fact, we think an even more major change is required than that called for in these documents.
Specifically, we are recommending that the party launch a mass distribution, workers newspaper. Secondly, that a more analytical publication also be produced. This proposal is a change from the past in several ways. First off, we are proposing a party newspaper, not an “anti-imperialist” paper. Secondly, we are proposing a nationwide newspaper, not many, different local papers. However, local areas, who have the resources, could also produce local supplements to insert in the national paper.
Our local paper was formed just as the organization in this area was beginning. We had a very primitive idea at that time of how to build the revolutionary workers movement. Also because of geography and organizational primitiveness, we were very isolated from the rest of the organization. Our line was muddled, and filled with rightism, economism, “worker-ism,” two-level work, and (especially later) Bundism. We tried to build up a workers organization around the newspaper, but ended up failing, both as a real revolutionary newspaper, and as a workers organization.
In the wake of the struggle against Bundism and economism in our area, we analyzed the newspaper. One of the many problems we discovered was the combining and confusing of program and ideology. We have summed up that an intermediate workers organization (IWO) must be united around a program not an ideology, and that it must be open at both ends, with communists working to increase the political understanding of other members of the IWO (and others as well) through the course of struggle.
We discovered that no matter how hard we tried, we could not put out a newspaper that was not a “marketplace of ideas” without uniting around a ideology, and as a result, “closing up” the group at one end. Every issue of the paper, news questions would come up–the McGovern campaign, the role of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, how to cover Events organized by bourgeois nationalists, etc. At every turn, we were faced with alternatives–all of which are unacceptable when you’re trying to build an “anti-imperialist” organization which puts out a newspaper: 1) we could try to manipulate, by getting a “good” person to write the controversial article with the correct line on it, or we could “fix-up” the article as it was being typed or pasted down, hoping the writer wouldn’t notice; 2) we could allow wrong lines on important issues to be printed; 3) we could struggle to unite the staff around the correct line before parting anything about a particular question.
Usually we did the third, but the problems didn’t end there. Holding off until we could win people over on every new issue that comes up takes time, and combined with other problems meant that we were never “hot on the spot” with answers to the questions on people’s minds. And the analysis was usually superficial since we were always fearful of going “beyond” our “anti-imperialist” level of unity. The result was right errors in the articles. After two years, the RU finally had “its own” column, which meant that subjects like Marxism-Leninism, revolution, and socialism finally appeared openly in the paper. But that did not solve the basic questions. Now new questions were asked: How many articles by the RU should there be?–(One is O.K., but two....? etc.) What types of articles should the RU do in its name?–(Save the “heavy” ones for the RU, etc.)
And while we were busy watering down what got out to the masses, our level of unity was constantly being raised with each new issue of the paper. Though the “Who We Are” said that the unity was “around the five spearheads,” in practice the level of unity required was general unity with the RU and a willingness to follow the RU. The group could in no way function as an IWO or even as the “editorial staff of a newspaper of an IWO.” Since we did all our work (for a long time) through the newspaper (strike support, primarily), we were making “left” errors with workers and others who wanted to join us in common struggle–“you’ve got to agree with us on everything first”–and we left no room for programmatic unity...all in the context of consistent right errors with the masses as a whole.
And we found that, generally, getting people involved working on the newspaper was not the best way to reach out to new people. Workers, especially, were intimidated by the idea of writing newspaper articles, etc. In a sense, we were trying to turn workers into journalists instead of integrating with their struggles, building them, and broadening their understanding. We failed to understand how people learn through struggle, and the role of communists and propaganda work must play in this.
We see now that a newspaper that is a publication which comes out often, which covers all of the important questions of the day, must have an ideology to guide its work. The bourgeoisie has its own ideology, and its press, and through it, promotes its views of the local, regional, national, and international situation. The proletariat and its party also need to have newspapers as part of the struggle to win over the masses. We must work towards a situation when the working class has its own newspaper(s) that the masses look to (every day, eventually) instead of the bourgeois press to find out what is going on in the world and how we can go about changing it. Such a newspaper(s) would be a powerful instrument for the party to strengthen its organizations and to spread its influence among the masses.
Does this mean that the paper will be isolated from the mass struggle? No, that will depend on the line and practice of the party. What will connect the masses and their struggles with the paper(s) will be the party. Party members would use the paper systematically in their work–building struggles in the plants, against police repression, etc. The paper would help comrades bring the party’s line to the messes and the work of the party will make more and more people look to the paper for answers. The party would have to set up ways for cadre to constantly evaluate the paper and constantly improve its mass line and popular style.
Would the paper(s) only involve party members? No. Many people who like the overall work and line of the party would be encouraged to sell the paper, write articles and letters, etc. The party would have complete and open editorial control. (Whether or not the paper said so in print would of course depend on the concrete conditions, especially security, at the particular times.)
In the long run, it will mean more people, not less, will support the party and its paper, because the party will be able to get its line out this way much more effectively and clearly. And by separating the question of uniting ideologically from uniting programmatically, we can go out much more broadly among the masses, uniting with them in a program of struggle, while preserving our clear ideological independence and struggling with people, step by step, to advance people’s political understanding.
The party’s mass working class paper(s) would be widely distributed–even in situations where mass organizations have their own publications. Many plant, industry, and areawide IWOs will have their own newsletters (and other publications, in some cases), as will UWOC, VVAW/WSO, etc. The party should work to develop and build these, while being careful not to see these as a substitute for the party’s mass paper(s). In general, these mass organizations’ publications will not be fully developed newspapers, but will have a more limited scope, because their level of unity is also more limited. In general, these publications will be limited to coverage and analysis of the work of the particular group and to issues and events which are related to their work.
There are other important problems with the local papers. First of all, they come out monthly or even more rarely. This severely limits their effectiveness. People cannot look to a newspaper to find out what’s going on in the world if they must wait a month to gel it. Newspapers must have news, which means that they must come out frequently.
Do we have the ability to put out weekly newspaper in each area in the foreseeable future? No, we do not. In fact, we do not have the forces to put out even monthly newspapers in many areas of the country.
The only way we can solve this problem in the immediate future is to overcome primitiveness and centralize our resources and launch a nationwide newspaper. This paper should come out frequently, perhaps every other week at first, and then become a weekly.
There are of course many obstacles to be overcome in order to do this. Channels would have to be found to ensure that the paper would have real links with the masses, that it would have a really mass style that it would accurately report what is happening in the local areas, and speak to the real concerns and questions of the masses. And, of course, constant struggle would always be required to make sure that the newspaper staff and the local committees would carry out the party’s line and not create separate centers.
But the history of the communist movement around the world, as well as the tremendous advances we have already been making in the U.S., have shown that it can be done.
This newspaper would be putting out the party’s line, with its major emphasis on shorter, agitational articles about struggles in the various areas. It would discuss and analyze developments in local areas, nationally, and internationally. And it would popularize and develop further the party’s local, regional, and national campaigns and work. What the paper prints would depend not so much on how “famous” or “large” a particular event or issue was, etc. Many of the articles now found in the local workers papers where workers “spill their guts” about the suffering and oppression they have seen or experienced in a local plant, or around a particular incident of police repression, for example, should be printed also.
And the paper, as a party organ, can also run broader propaganda articles summing up the general situation and the road forward for the working class, and explaining, in popular form, important questions of communist theory.
Local areas could produce two to four page supplements to insert in the paper with articles which the national paper could not include. But in general, local areas would not be putting the important local news here, but submitting it for printing in the main paper itself. This way the paper would “stand on its own” and could be used even in areas too small or undeveloped to produce their own supplement on a regular basis. Thus the inserts would serve as kind of a “safety valve” to make the transition to a national paper and to take care of situations when struggles in a local area cannot all be covered as extensively as needed in a particular issue of the paper because of lack of space, etc.
The main newspaper would be in English and would include a sizable Spanish section. In areas where Spanish is particularly important, the local supplement could also have additional articles in Spanish. Also in areas where other languages are widely read and spoken, Arabic and Chinese for example, the local insert could also provide a section in that language. As the party’s size and practice grows, the party should work towards having separate editions of its paper in Spanish and other languages.
And, of course, the party, in its own name or in the paper’s name, would also produce many leaflets, flyers, etc. on a local, regional, or national basis.
The local papers now require a tremendous amount of work which is not in direct contact with the masses–article writing, typing, proofreading, layout, etc. A national newspaper would eliminate a lot of this duplication of work. Except for the producing of inserts and writing the local articles, having a national newspaper would greatly reduce this type of work. A tremendous amount of time and energy could be released for use in other, more valuable ways–getting out with the paper much more often and more systematically, and to do other work. This would make better use of cadre and as a result advance all of our work.
The local papers, because of limited space and resources, have often not had adequate national and especially international coverage and analysis. A national paper, with greater resources, can overcome that problem.
Also these local papers in most areas are very expensive to produce because of their small press runs and circulation. One national paper could be produced much more cheaply per copy and pay for itself instead of being a drain on the finances of the party, its cadre, and others close to the party’s work.
In relation to all of this, we must also sum up the role of Revolution. Revolution played a key role as “party organizer.” It helped to overcome localism and regionalism within the RU and to advance the political development of cadre. It has played a key role in the ideological struggle to build the party, and has been useful in developing advanced workers, and others who have come forward, into communists.
Nevertheless, the role of Revolution has to be valuated in light of the tasks of the new period. Revolution never had the circulation of the local papers. (In our area, it had about one fourth the circulation.) It was not sold at factory gates, so in order to get one, you had to be already in contact with us, or go to the “movement bookstore,” or to a demonstration. Now the party will have its own mass circulation paper, which, while reaching out to all workers, will as a secondary task be used to find and develop advanced workers, and bring them to the party. Also the party will have to have a theoretical journal. The journal will have to be “down to earth” and easily readable. This will be especially important as the party carries out its task of proletarianizing itself. All the party’s literature will have to be written in the plainest, most straightforward and popular way as possible, while still getting across all the important and often complex political questions.
What all this means is that instead of having a mass paper(s), Revolution, and a theoretical journal, that Revolution must “divide one into two.” Presently Revolution does some of the job of a mass newspaper and some of the job of a theoretical journal. Those short, popular articles now printed in Revolution should be in the mass paper instead. Articles summing up in depth work of communists in particular struggles would probably remain in Revolution (except for a few so important, popular, and interesting that they should be in the mass paper.) The longer theoretical articles would remain in Revolution. Very long theoretical articles would be either serialized, or put out separately in book form like How Capitalism Has Been Restored in the Soviet Union and What It Means for the World Struggle was done. Thus Revolution would become the party’s theoretical journal. Revolution’s format could be changed to magazine format, if necessary, later. Revolution would be widely circulated to people working closely with the party or looking to it for leadership, and would be used with party members, advanced workers, and others to further consolidate their understanding of Marxism-Leninism and the line and practice of the party.
The party would also produce many pamphlets, and also internal documents.
This proposal would both decrease the strain on the party’s resources caused by producing so many local and national publications, and improve the quality of what is produced. And it would make the party’s line and publications more widely and constantly accessible to the masses of people.
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The question is now before us as to whether or not upon forming the new revolutionary Communist Party will the party dissolve the local workers papers and publish one national workers paper or will the workers papers become organs of the party in the local areas at this time. We feel the latter is correct and agree with the latest document where it states: “What it does mean is that these papers should put out the party’s line, with their major emphasis on shorter, agitational articles about local and regional struggles and the development of national campaigns and struggles in the area. These papers should also, as their secondary aspect, put out the party’s line on major questions of the day, nationally and internationally; and they should run some broader propaganda articles summing up the general situation and the road forward for the working class, and explaining, in popular form, important questions of communist theory....” “Under the direction of the Central Committee of the Party (and its standing bodies) a news service will be developed to assist the local papers. This news service will issue several articles centrally each month to the local papers on key questions and struggles (as well as sending other materials, such as pictures). This will strengthen the party’s leadership in the local papers and the presentation of the unified line of the party on these key questions and struggles, and it will aid comrades leading these papers to present the struggle in the local area in the overall context of the struggle of the working class as a whole.”
Point 1 – Why retain the local papers? Wouldn’t it be easier to have just one national paper? Wouldn’t this make sure that only one line–the party’s–is in that paper? The only way to answer these questions is to do some concrete analysis of the concrete conditions–what are the needs of the working class, what is the development and consciousness of its struggle? What is the development of the party at this time? Dissolving the local papers for one national paper does not do this. Instead it says what should communists be doing to be correct communists. From this perspective many errors follow. For example, concrete analysis would show us that the more pressing need of the working class is papers that are published much more often, that are timely; say two times a month right now with the goal of a weekly and then a daily.
Also dissolving the local papers does not take into account the present consciousness of the working class, which the DP and latest document say (and we agree) that it is mainly a group of workers vs. an individual employer. This does not mean that the class consciousness of the working class is not developing, but it is not a very high, revolutionary consciousness yet. By liquidating the local papers, the party would liquidate the importance of going deeper into the class struggle, giving particular guidance to key struggles and spreading them throughout the class. But the position in Article “Two” (in the “Workers Papers” section) of the last Journal wants to skip this and says in fact that only the intermediate workers like to read about local struggles!
Point 2–All the articles in the last Journal on party papers spoke of the continual error of the papers to be narrow and stamped with localism– my workers vs. my boss in my town. Wouldn’t a national paper, as Article “Two” suggests, smash this localism? This fails to see what is primary: how the papers are published and their line, though the article says line is primary. Exactly–the problem of narrowness and localism is a political error. Whether we write articles on Watergate or a sick-out, it must always be written with the view of the entire working class. Writing on local issues is not localism, writing on local issues and limiting the struggle is. Dissolving the local papers to eliminate this error is a structural solution to a political problem. Although Article “Two” sees the errors, its answer to them will not correct them. Though this does not mean that the party should leave the workers papers out on a limb to resolve the problems. Creating a news service under the direction of the Central Committee of the Party will aid in this as well as a constant struggle within the party against narrowness and localism.
Point 3–Are the workers papers mainly propaganda or agitation? They are mainly agitation. Lenin states in What Is To Be Done?, in the section on Trade Union Politics and Social Democratic Politics, in discussing Iskra, “The question arises, what should political education consist in? Can it be confined to the propaganda of working class hostility to the autocracy? Of course not. It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are politically oppressed (any more than it is to explain to them that their interests are antagonistic to the interests of the employers.) Agitation must be conducted with regard to every concrete example of this oppression.”
The workers papers must be tools in the hands of party cadre and advanced workers; tools in building the struggle, class consciousness, and revolutionary unity of the working class and leadership in a broad united front against imperialism and social-imperialism; tools that help the working class fight its day to day battles and build its struggle into a broad social upheaval that points the finger at the enemy and why we must destroy. If the workers papers fail in this as their primary task it will be a tremendous setback.
But the general thrust of the type of paper Article “Two” discusses is more propaganda, more theoretical–“In many ways Revolution has played the role of a nationwide party paper.” This leads me to picture a workers newspaper issued roughly once a month dealing mainly with articles, say, on Portugal with coverage of only the most important struggles, say city cutbacks in NYC. Again the error flows from what are the needs of the working class vs. what should correct communists be doing?
This does not mean that the local papers will not have long analytic articles on major questions, or that there even never should be a nationwide workers paper. What is does mean, however, is that at this time the revolutionary struggle of the working class can be nest served at this time by struggling to bring the workers papers under the leadership of the party and retaining the local issues while creating a national news service at the same time.
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I believe that the question of culture has been dealt with to some degree both mechanically and idealistically, in the DP, and latest document, as well as in the last Journal article on culture.
I think the sentiment of the Journal article is correct in that we haven’t really understood the importance of the role of culture in building the Revolutionary Workers Movement, and that comrades haven’t really grasped the concept of culture as a weapon to be honed to a sharp edge. I particularly agree that there has been a tendency to fall into seeing the forms (song, theatre, etc.) as making up for the content (line), and along with that the attitude of “...but so what, it’s only entertainment...”
I agree with the criticism of the DP (p. 11) on culture inasmuch as it would be incorrect to just view culture as “creating public opinion.” But the fact is that the DP goes on to state, “Developing and promoting proletarian culture is a crucial part of building the revolutionary struggle of the working class to overthrow the bourgeoisie.” The Journal article also criticizes the DP (p. 33) for not explaining exactly “how” we develop proletarian culture. I don’t believe it is the job of the programme to point out these kinds of tactics to cadre. In fact, I think that the Journal article falls into the same error that the last document does, and to some degree the DP as well, and that is viewing culture idealistically, and therefore dealing with it mechanically.
The Journal article is correct to state that culture “...must be criticized, politically honed and sharpened in the same way as we criticize and sharpen our other agitation.” But it does not point out the particular problems in developing culture at this time.
In the past most of our errors have come from not clearly seeing the correct relationship between theory and practice. Several negative results have come of this.
Mainly it has given rise to a situation where we have an incorrect orientation and class stand on culture. In many cases our tendency has indeed been one of “culture is icing on the cake.” Our approach has been to leave it to those who want to do it, who feel it is a particularly enjoyable area of work, with no regard for these comrades’ theoretical understanding of culture. If we saw a certain speech to be made as particularly important would we saw, “Who wants to do it? Who would have the most fun?” Of course not! Yet this is what it boils down to when workers see people performing who look like they’re having a dandy little time for themselves and give the impression that our struggles are simple sing-song issues.
Another indication of incorrect orientation is that some comrades, myself included, have taken part in writing movement style, “in crowd” type of songs to the point of “cleverly” criticizing one organization or another. This is characteristic of the old period.
A problem that goes along with these errors, which in our area has been overcome to a great degree, is the struggle to select the best comrades to do the work. There has been some subjectiveness around this and it comes from the ideology that anyone who wants to do it should do it. It means not understanding that people with the best technical ability, along with class stand and a good grasp of theory, should be put forward. Understanding this is part of understanding the correct line on cultural work.
All these errors are self-indulgent. But where do they come from? From the bourgeoisie. They are not only made by comrades with petty bourgeois background, but by working class comrades as well. Under capitalism all culture is reduced to “show-biz,” whether music, literature, or art. It is highly exclusive and highly self-indulgent. In the case of working class comrades it represents a chance to leave wage slavery behind.
We have made some advances in cultural work, but without summing our work up scientifically we will never reach the correct orientation. And that means struggle. Struggle to find what it means to say that we must develop proletarian culture from the masses where it originated. I think it means that taking culture to the working class is taking it home.
Mao says, “The more you put on the airs of a veteran before the masses and play the ’hero,’ the more you try to peddle such stuff to the masses, the less likely they are to accept it. If you want the masses to understand you, if you want to be one with the masses, you must make up your mind to undergo a long and painful process of tempering.”
The point of all this is struggle for correct orientation; struggle to develop an understanding of culture that will move the day to day struggles forward.
I feel that if these questions and others are not brought out and resolved, the result will always be a mechanical approach to culture. This is my criticism of the article in the last Journal.
In the DP section, “Life Under Socialism,” when we talk about culture we should speak to the fact that in that period we will resolutely struggle with “established” artists to help develop artists from the working class. As Mao says, “Our literature and art workers must shift their stand; they must gradually move their feet over to the side of the workers...through the process of going into their very midst...”
I think that our party’s internal documents could give more guidance in summing up past tendencies, laying out advances, indicating the errors holding us back, and pointing the way forward to understanding how to better use culture in day to day work.
To just say that we use culture as a weapon and will continue to do so, and at the same time negate the struggle to learn to do these things better, is idealist.
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The two sections in the DP on culture (on p. 11 and p. 33) provide good descriptions of proletarian culture. But the draft does not draw out enough the essence of the matter, which, as the article on p. 41 of Journal No. 3 correctly points out, is that culture is a weapon in the hands of whatever class wields it.
The draft does say, on p. 11, that culture is a weapon (although not just for creating “public opinion”), and on p. 33 states that “Works of literature, music, film and other forms of art that represent the proletariat a-rise from and in turn serve the struggle of the masses of people.” This is good. But then it goes on to say that these works “reflect [the masses’] great power in opposition to the decay of the imperialists and radiate the confidence and militancy of the proletariat as the class of the future.” And on p. 11: “It arises from and reflects the outlook and interests of the working class in its revolutionary struggle.” Again, good. But most importantly, and this is what is left out, works of revolutionary art. and culture further the interests and struggle of the class and of the masses, deepen and advance their outlook and understanding, unite and inspire them, and build their confidence and militancy.
Anyone who has been to a Prairie Fire performance knows the truth of this. Their songs do all these because, as the introduction to their book says, “these songs... take a stand with the working class, point out the enemy we’re fighting, and [are] aimed right at its rotten heart.” They help the masses to “sum up [their] experiences in struggle and inspire them to move forward.” And by taking this strong, open class stand, these songs are also able to help the masses understand and eliminate backward ideas, to unload these “burdens hampering them in the struggle,” as Mao calls them. (The question of the open class stand of proletarian culture, as opposed to the very important function of bourgeois culture which is to mask the class structure of society, should be emphasized more in the section on p. 11.)
A good example of depicting and aiding this process of remoulding is Prairie Fire’s song, “Who’s To Blame” which describes the transformation of a working class couple whose marriage is breaking up under the pressure of trying to make a living, working hard, losing jobs, etc. Someone at the unemployment center “talks up a storm” about how “us working people ain’t the ones to blame...it’s the rich men, the capitalists/ Who keep all us people down./But when us working people get together/ When we unite and fight back/ We can drive those bastards into the ground.” Through this understanding, they come back together to “join together/ With others of our class/ To fight until another great day/ When our freedom is won at last!”
Another example of how revolutionary culture arises from and in turn serves the masses can be seen, for example, in how the idea for the song, “Not For Sale,” about the struggle against the ENA, arose out of that struggle, and in turn, the chorus of that song, which goes: “Take Your Hundred And Fifty, Abel, And Go To Hell/ The Right To Strike Is Not For Sale!” became a slogan and a rallying cry for the demonstration at the steelworkers convention in Atlantic City last fall.
Also, Article “Six” on p. 42 of Journal No. 3 is correct in pointing to the confusing way the section on ideology and culture is included in the section of the draft called “The working class will lead the fight against all oppression.” (pp. 32-33) This both weakens that section, and blurs the role of proletarian ideology and culture. These paragraphs should be taken out of this section and be put into a separate section immediately after, under the title “Smash Bourgeois Ideology and Culture, Build Proletarian Ideology and Culture.”
The key role the party press and other, non-party publications play in this struggle should also be included in this section, while again emphasizing that these publications are primarily tools for advancing the struggles of the masses, and not just sources of “good ideas.” (This question of the party press and other publications merits more mention in the programme than the few lines it receives on p. 17 in the section on the party. After all, it has been, and will continue to be, a main user of the party’s time, energy and cadre. It should also appear, and this is the most important place it should appear, in the heart of the section on “Build the Revolutionary Workers Movement,” outside of the section on ideology and culture.)
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As a key part of the struggle against the bourgeoisie the working class and its party must give full flower to proletarian propaganda and culture, while exposing and ripping out the poisonous weeds of the bourgeoisie. This is an immediate task and cannot be put off until socialism. (DP, p. 33)
This understanding is correct, and must be deepened considerably. Neither the DP nor the latest document give much guidance as to how the party will take up and develop cultural work. This is especially important as it is an essential part of the struggle, a part we cannot be without. As Mao says, “We must also have a cultural army, which is absolutely indispensable for uniting our own ranks and defeating the enemy.” And it is also especially important as it is a part of the struggle that we have not developed very far and which we have not deeply grasped as integral and necessary to the revolutionary struggle.
There have been attempts at developing cultural work (mostly music) in this city over a period of almost three years. But only over the last short period of time have we paid any consistent attention to it, consciously and systematically taking up the task of giving it political guidance from the organization, as opposed to the independent guidance from different comrades involved based on their individual grasp of line.
This has been an important advance, yet there are still many weaknesses. The main strength is that we go about it as a political task more than ever before. We understand, to a degree, that culture is not just something you add to a list of speeches at a program to keep it from getting too boring. But we have not yet developed as full a grasp as we need of culture as a weapon to advance the struggle of the working class. A large part of what we have yet to do is to root out this influences of bourgeois ideology around the question of culture. These ideas seem to linger longer here than in some other areas of work. The bourgeoisie has had many years of practice, and has developed some skill to be able to pervert the forms developed by the masses with its own bourgeois content, and its own bourgeois ideas about what constitutes culture anyway.
The main way that culture is still taken up here is as part of a program–IWD, May Day, etc. And this speaks to the question of audience. Of course it is important to have culture at these programs, and we have to take the correct approach. Too often we have seen, even in using culture at these programs, while we choose songs, for instance, that put forward a correct line that can help to move the struggles forward, our approach is that we are singing songs to an audience who has heard it all before and of course they like the songs so we’ll sing for them. They need to be entertained, so it may as well be political entertainment. We even forget that at these programs our audience is not just a small circle of friends, but is more and more becoming the working class. Part of this is a tendency to think we won’t mobilize anybody new for a program, demo, etc., and the other part is not particularly caring–and the latter makes sense if it’s just approached as “political entertainment.”
This is not to paint a picture that everything on the cultural front is dark and dismal–this is not the case at all. This area of work is moving steadily forward, and not just a small part of that due to the Prairie Fire tour. But the point is that we have to make a leap into the new period, and the key to that is making a break with the old approach.
The larger part of the question of audience is do we take our culture out to the masses. And if so and when we do, how does it move things forward? One time we went to a picket line and took our instruments along. This was a strike that the workers paper had been working with for some time, and had done some good work. We knew what the strike was all about and should have been able to approach our responsibilities around cultural work there on that basis.
Well, you’d have though all we knew was that they were on strike. We picked some songs about strikes (in this case “Ballad of the Women’s Emergency Brigade” and “Casey Jones”)–these workers of course couldn’t be interested in anything beyond the shop struggle (in spite of the fact that the workers paper had won them to participate in a demo around one of the campaigns–I don’t recall which one at that time.)
In any case, however, the workers united with us and enjoyed it. To a degree, also, it helped to develop the militance of the picket line, but this was more due to the spontaneous influence culture has on people, than it was our doing. In fact, when we were done singing (read “performing”), the workers wanted to continue singing while they picketed, and we were some of the least enthusiastic about it. Our guitar player even refused to play–they could sing if they wanted, but we were there for a performance only.
Another time a group went to an action at an unemployment office, planning to sing “Hard Times Are Fightin’ Times” after a speech by UWOC. They summed up that they shouldn’t sing because they didn’t have the support of the masses. Later, when the police came in looking for the “guy with the bullhorn,” the workers in the office pulled these people into the lines with them, and denied that there had been a bullhorn. These were the workers who “didn’t support us.”
All this stuff about performing and political entertainment and when do we sing and when don’t we flows from nowhere but imposing bourgeois ideas about culture onto proletarian culture. That’s not to say that proletarian cultural workers don’t perform–but it’s on a qualitatively higher level than bourgeois performers. The only interest we have in performing is to move the struggle forward. We want our culture to inspire people to carry on the struggle, to make revolution.
Proletarian culture is not just the opposite of bourgeois culture (and this could be brought out a bit more clearly in the DP, especially about where proletarian culture is developed from)–it is culture developed in the highest form. As Lenin says, “Not the invention of a new proletarian culture but the development of the best models, traditions and results of the existing culture, from the point of view of the Marxist world outlook and the conditions of life and struggle of the proletariat...” (“Rough Draft of a Resolution on Proletarian Culture,” Lenin on Culture and Cultural Revolution, p. 150, emphasis Lenin’s)
Proletarian culture moves the struggle forward mainly by summing up the mass line and putting it out in popular form. And it’s a lasting expression of the spirit of the working class to put an end to exploitation and oppression once and for all. It expresses the joy that comes out of the struggle–points to the bright future. Sometimes we let this understanding get the better of us and fall into the error pointed out in the last Journal (No.4 under “Other Articles”): “Mysticism on the question of culture, the tendency to think that the form prevents thoroughgoing criticism of the content, or the tendency to think that form will somehow make up for weaknesses in content...”
I would add to this the tendency to think that culture performed by “political” people is automatically correct. We had a struggle here over Prairie Fire’s song “Partner’s Trust,” which some of us had criticisms of. The majority line was “OK, there are those criticisms, but they know the correct line, and they’re trying, at least some of it is correct.” (Don’t raise the criticisms, the main thing is that they know what’s correct, and in that light the errors are insignificant.) Another struggle came out over a song about police repression written to the tune of a revolutionary Irish song, which initiated so much struggle over the form (it was in real Irish form–not just tune but the words also, and true enough it’s not a form that the majority of people are real familiar with and identify with) that we almost ignored the political errors in the content. We have to recognize that political errors in culture are very dangerous, perhaps to a degree more dangerous than in some other areas of work, because the way good culture (formwise) affects people.
The flip side of this error, however, is not pointed out in the Journal article–to criticize culture to death before it ever gets out to the masses. Of course, we don’t want to put out something that has glaring errors, but if the problem is that it’s in the main correct and we’re looking for perfection, we ain’t gonna get it by shutting up the cultural workers in a hothouse. We have to rely on the masses.
One time a group had written a song and sang it at a party, asking for criticisms. They listened to what people thought, then went in another room and worked on it for awhile. A couple hours later, they sang it again and the line had immensely improved. But there were still some weaknesses, they asked for criticisms again. They eventually decided to scratch the song, which was probably correct, but the next one they wrote, they insisted on perfection before they would even let anyone hear it. In summing it up, however, they feel that the first way was much more correct–they had a much better basis for deciding what to do with the song when they took it to the masses and asked for criticism.
The point is, as Lenin says “Think of the pressure exercised on the development of our painting, sculpture and architecture by the fashions and moods of the tsarist court, as well as by the taste, the fancies of the aristocrats and bourgeoisie. In a society based on private property the artist produces goods for the market, he needs buyers. Our revolution has lifted the pressure of this most prosaic state of affairs from the artists. It has made the Soviet State their protector and patron. Every artist, and everybody who wishes to, can claim the right to create freely according to his ideal, whether it turns out good or not. And so you have the ferment, the experiment, the chaos.
But of course we are Communists. We must not put our hands in our pockets and let chaos ferment as it pleases. We must consciously try to guide this development, to form and determine its results...
...Art belongs to the people. It must have its deepest roots in the broad mass of workers. It must be understood and loved by them. It must be rooted in and grow with their feelings, thoughts and desires... (quoted by Clara Zetkin in Reminiscences of Lenin, International Publishers edition, p. 12, 13)
This is the spirit of the latest document when it says “The Party must take this up as a key front in the class struggle (encouraging and guiding the growth of proletarian culture) and, through its leading bodies, sum up experience in this field and develop and guide an army of cultural fighters.” This is certainly correct, and this guidance must be based in an understanding of the first point Lenin makes in the Draft Resolution (see earlier reference), “Not special ideas, but Marxism.” And the party must give leadership to cultural leaders in this regard.
But what we have to understand better is how this can best be done. The whole thrust of the DP and latest document around culture is that it is a necessary weapon in the overall revolutionary struggle. It is certainly correct to have a division of labor between cultural workers and other areas of work, but what bothers me is that the tendency in the past has been, even where the RU has been giving guidance as we have locally, to separate cultural work too much from the overall work.
Another point in Lenin’s Draft Resolution is “Prolet cult’s close link with and subordination to the Commissariat for Education.” Now of course we don’t have a situation like what Lenin was talking about, and the working class doesn’t have state power here–but that’s all the more reason to grasp this fundamental point. While the party leading cultural work is the key thing, we must put more emphasis on the importance of linking it with other areas of work.
For example, in the situation described above where cultural workers went to a UWOC action, it should have been UWOC who summed up whether they should sing or not, or at least in conjunction with the cultural workers. The point is that the tasks laid out in the latest document should be drawn out a bit clearer, so that the thrust of our understanding of culture comes out in the particulars as well.
There is a division of labor between cultural workers and other areas of work, but the link is the key thing. Having a firmer grasp of culture as a weapon will lay the basis for making this link a reality.
* * *
The sections of the DP on proletarian culture, on pages 11 and 33, don’t really speak to the working class and tell them what proletarian culture is. Unless you’re already familiar with some work done in this sphere of the class struggle, like Prairie Fire’s songs for instance, then you’re left asking, “so, what is proletarian culture? Is it some whole new art form? What do you mean it’s ’the exact opposite of bourgeois culture’? I like some of the culture that’s around now–is this all to be destroyed?” The way the DP is written, you get the impression that what we have now is 100% bourgeois culture, and that there is no unity between the existing culture and proletarian culture. This is wrong. Within the existing culture lie the aspects of proletarian culture which have been ripped off and distorted by the bourgeoisie to turn it to their own interests. We want to build on these aspects and turn them into weapons against the bourgeoisie.
Comrade Mao speaks to this in “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” when he says, “We should take over the rich legacy and the good traditions in literature and art that have been handed down from past ages in China and foreign countries, but the aim must still be to serve the masses of the people. Nor do we refuse to utilize the literary and artistic forms of the past, but in our hands these old forms, remoulded and infused with new content, also become something revolutionary in the service of the people.” And Lenin also recognizes this in the draft resolution “On Proletarian Culture” drawn up for the First All-Russian Congress of the Prolecult organization in 1920. He writes, “Marxism has won its historic significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat because, far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bourgeois epoch, it has, on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture.”
Again, in “The Tasks of the Youth Leagues” in the same year, he says, “We shall be unable to solve this problem unless we clearly realize that only a precise knowledge and transformation of the culture created by the entire development of mankind will enable us to create a proletarian culture. The latter is not clutched out of thin air; it is not an invention of those who call themselves experts in proletarian culture. That is all nonsense. Proletarian culture must be the logical development of the store of knowledge mankind has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist, landowner, and bureaucratic society. All these roads have been leading, and will continue to lead up to proletarian culture, in the same way as political economy, as reshaped by Marx, has shown us what human society must arrive at, shown us the passage to the class struggle, to the beginning of the proletarian revolution.”
Again, Article “One” in “On the Role of the Workers Papers” in Journal No. 3 speaks to this when they say that in writing reviews of bourgeois movies, and TV shows, “the task is twofold–to expose the deception and class nature of them and sum them up from the proletarian standpoint; and to explain what it is that workers like about these things and unite with what is progressive. If we fail to do this last part, workers see us as cynics who trash everything, as separate from them.”
And in Revolution, April 1975, in “Prairie Fire Tour Greeted Everywhere”: “Prairie Fire has pointed out that they use many forms, drawing on the rich variety of music that’s the heritage of the working class and oppressed nationalities in this country. But they go on to stress that it’s not the arrangement of sharps and flats that’s key, although that does have some importance, but what you’re saying in the songs. A proletarian class stand and a content that helps propel the class struggle forward can be reflected in all the various styles.” “Their songs build on the past creations of working and oppressed people and develop these forms to give full expression to the determination, dignity, unity and joy of fighting for a new world.”
What is needed in the DP is not only a description of bourgeois and proletarian cultures, and the roles they play in the class struggle, but also how the existing culture, the culture people are familiar with, fits into all this. (Even cop shows have a progressive aspect when you see them finally getting some rich head of a smuggling ring that’s been ripping everybody off, or something. What we want to do is take that aspect and show how it is really that we’re going to deal with these creeps.) If this isn’t brought out clearly in the DP, we will not really be arming the masses with this weapon, because they’re not going to know what this weapon is in real life and where it comes from.