Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Seattle Branch of the Central Organization of U.S. Marxist-Leninists

Apply Marxism-Leninism Mao Tsetung Thought to problems confronting proletarian revolution in the U.S.


(Synopsis of the speech delivered to a meeting of over 20 Marxist-Leninists in Seattle by a representative of the Seattle Branch-Central Organization of U.S. Marxist-Leninists.)

Comrades and friends, the Communist Party is the party of the proletariat. In that the party is built in struggle against revisionism, what is the revisionist line on this point? The Party Constitution of the Labor Progressive Party of Canada in 1945 read: “The Labor Progressive Party is the political organization of the workers, farmers, professional people and all other Canadians who toil by hand or brain.” (Communism versus Opportunism, by Fergus McKean, page 20)

In contrast to the revisionist plank of the LPP at that time was the preamble to the CPUSA constitution: “The Communist Party of the United States is the political party of the American working class basing itself upon the principles of scientific socialism, Marxism-Leninism.” (ibid)

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels stated in the Communist Manifesto: “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry, the proletariat is its essential product.” Lenin stated: “The proletarian class struggle for socialism against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie is inevitable. This is beyond doubt. From this logically follows the absolute necessity of a separate independent and strictly class party.”

The Communist Party is a party of the proletariat so long as its political line consists of:

(1) seizing state power through revolutionary violence, establishing socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat so as to achieve communism; and (2) in fighting all of the partial battles prior to actual insurrection, the working class party never adopts a reformist, illusionary political line of emancipation under capitalism. The Party always points to the necessity of continuing the class struggle through to the end.

The ML Party cannot allow any of the numerous alliances with fighting sections of the petty bourgeoisie to divert it from irreconcilable class struggle. The party of the proletariat cannot represent the class interests of the petty bourgeoisie. For example, in the trade union movement, the petty bourgeois influence in the working class is that of bourgeois ideology, such as illusions of achieving salvation and a happy, secure life under capitalism. In the trade union movement this type of influence introduces self-centeredness into struggles for contracts, and advocates settlement in situations where the bourgeoisie throws some section of the workers a little more wages than another section in an attempt to railroad acceptance based on a splitting tactic. Also, petty bourgeois influence among the workers views contracts as an end, the solution to their woes, rather than a truce in the class struggle. This kind of influence can also view a contract as sacred, due to awe of bourgeois legality and consequently advocate not utilizing illegal tactics in waging the economic struggle. The concentrated expression of petty bourgeois influence in the working class is the outright bourgeois labor bureaucrats. Independence of the proletarian party means that it must understand and grasp these petty-bourgeois trends and steer the working class away from being led and submerged in them.

One of the tasks of Marxist-Leninists in the U.S. today is to develop a clear-cut independent class policy for the trade union movement. And, invariably, the revisionist line attempts to divert the ML Party into taking up bourgeois class stand, ideology and political line.

Last week we looked at the degeneration of the CPUSA’s political line during the late 1930s and discussed a few examples of this type of politics in today’s movement. Tonight, we want to look at the class conflict on the cultural front, which is of great importance.

Every day in the U.S., the people are saturated with bourgeois, fascist ideology, made more palatable through subtle artistic and literary technique. All mass media-promoted culture serves to protect the monopoly capitalist relations of production by mystifying and distorting reality. All literature and art, culture in ideological form, has a political content. It serves one class or the other. There is no such thing as art-for-its-own sake, aclass, supra-class art. Just as there is no such thing as “politics for the whole people”, there is also no such thing as “art for the whole people”.

Classes exist. Class struggle exists. It is objectively in the interest of the working class to wage proletarian socialist revolution and resolve the class contradiction. Art which serves the working class in accomplishing this task is proletarian literature and art. Art which opposes this process is bourgeois or petty bourgeois.

I have not done a thorough-going investigation into the literature and art promoted by the CPUSA in the ’30s and ’40s. I have though looked into a number of stories, records, and songs, as well as criticisms of this time period. And, I cannot say that the CPUSA never gave rise to any revolutionary literature and art at that time. But I also cannot say that they did do so, as I have yet to see it.

Characteristic of the supposedly revolutionary literature and art of this time period is the ideology of bourgeois humanism, the metaphysical method of bourgeois realism, and the politics of bourgeois reformism.

At the beginning I would like to explain that to take this position does not mean that all of the people who worked toward revolutionary literature and art at that time were bourgeois elements. Woody Guthrie for instance was of the working class. But in the absence of correct leadership from the CP on the cultural front, it is impossible for revolutionary cultural workers to rise above bourgeois ideology in any consistent manner.

There is an anthology of poems, stories, essays, etc published by International Publishers called “New Masses – an anthology of the rebel ’30s” (1969). “New Masses” was a CP-led literature and art magazine of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.

This anthology contains a number of reformist items. An introduction by Maxwell Geismar tries to defend the literature in the magazine during the ’30s from attacks by “historical revisionists”. These people are making anti-communist attacks on the ’30s. Geismar says: The selections in the anthology “repudiate once and for all the charges of inferior writing in the “New Masses”, of topical writing, of mere reportage, of political propaganda, and the rest. This opening section of verse is varied in content and technique, is all crafted to a high degree, is still pertinent. . . relevant. . . (with a) range of temperament and poetic mood from the lyrical, nostalgic, sentimental, to ironic, angry, wrathful, prophetic. It is informative and elegant.” We might add – it is everything but revolutionary.

Geismar denies that it was “political propaganda”. But the real truth is that all classes subordinate culture to definite class political lines. The proletariat is open about this, as reading “Chinese Literature” will confirm. The bourgeoisie however, hypocritically tries to conceal their class political stand in art and literature in the interests of lulling people to sleep and introducing ideas of class peace and reconciliation.

There are several other interesting comments from this introduction written in 1969.

There was some squabbling about the nature and content of such things as “proletarian fiction” and “truly revolutionary literature” versus bourgeois decadence. It may seem merely quaint today; some of it never had any relevance to the American scene.

Here is a glimpse of the American exceptionalism used by all opportunists to justify an anti-Marxist-Leninist stand.

One artist universally praised by revisionists for his work in the ’30s was John Dos Passos. The anthology contains a piece of reportage by him called “The Unemployed Report”. In looking at this, we are looking at stuff that is supposedly “the best”, and although it is not a poem, or fiction, it is still an art form and somewhat easier to analyse because of the mystification characteristic of the more “arty” forms.

To analyze this reportage we need guidelines, which are as follows: Art can only concentrate the living experience of the masses. Oppression and resistance make up the two main aspects of the experience of the American working class. How these aspects are dealt with determines the class allegiance of the author and the class character of his or her work. This involves, (a) what is the source of the oppression faced by the people and how is it criticized?; and (b) what are the limits of the response described by the author?

“The Unemployed Report” was written in 1934, at a time when the CPUSA was correctly characterizing the New Deal as an illusionary trap, and as such, part of the ̶o;liberal” bourgeoisie’s social fascist program. That is, when the CPUSA was leading the workers in class struggle against the capitalists. What is described as the source of the oppression facing the unemployed? The article is a report on a convention of unemployed workers from all over the country, mainly from 1200 Unemployed Councils. Dos Passos avoids clearly and incisively analyzing the problem of unemployment as a necessary part of the capitalist system. He does this through the method of hiding behind the consciousness of the masses and employing the method of bourgeois realism. Dos Passos writes:

Things were bad; little by little through the first years of the depression everything that was worthwhile in the American standard, schooling, independence, the chance to move around, good food and housing, was withdrawn from them and their families. They found themselves at the mercy of thievish politicians, loan-sharks, brutal charities. (“New Masses” page 142)

This is the closest the author comes to an analysis of the problem of unemployment. There is nothing revolutionary in it.

Bourgeois realism is a method that claims “objectivity” from the fact that it realistically portrays the consciousness of certain sections of the people. It portrays the ignorance of some workers, while refusing to portray the enlightened thoughts of advanced workers. As such, it freezes reality, class struggle is omitted and there is not a trace of revolution. In this way, the stage is set for putting forward the bourgeois political line – reformism.

The immediate remedy offered and endorsed by the convention was a drastic bill for Federal Unemployment Insurance introduced in the House on February 2 by Representative Lundeen. But everybody knew it would take more than that. Everybody knew that what it would take was organization, solidarity and nerve. . . . They’ll be reporting that if they don’t help themselves nobody ’is going to help them and that there are victories to be won by organization, solidarity and nerve. (ibid, page 144)

Organization, solidarity and nerve. This is not sufficient leadership for the workers. These qualities are needed to win the small-scale skirmishes with the authorities that are described in the article – eviction fights, farm auctions etc. But there is not a hint of the revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system itself. This is characteristic of all literature and art that I have had a chance to investigate of that time period: (a) bourgeois realism; (b) reformism.

The artistic form through which these politics are expressed plays a role. The more sophisticated the style, the more power the political expression has. And if the politics are incorrect, the better the artistry, the more treacherous the literature is. Dos Passos makes his attempt at this:

(Don’t forget that they grew up in the New Era when credit grew on gooseberry bushes and their parents were installing the frigidaire and washing machine millennium on the basis of easy monthly payments. They feel the world owes them something more than a bunk in a concentration camp.)

Another example of reformist art of the ’30s is the music of Woody Guthrie. Guthrie was a wandering migrant worker who was close to the CPUSA. He is known for his dust-bowl ballads of the ’30s and anti-fascist songs of the ’40s as well as for his pro-trade union stand. Being a wanderer, Guthrie was subject to the kind of social conditions that give rise to anarchist politics. But actually, he promoted petty bourgeois democratic views. His anti-fascism was of the anti-Hitler/pro-stars and stripes, pro-Roosevelt type. His pro-trade union stand is militant, pure and simple trade unionism.

Many people are somewhat familiar with his songs “Pastures of Plenty” and “This Land Is Your Land”. They are simply petty bourgeois democratic songs. “Grand Coulee Dam”, which one can hear in taverns around Seattle today, is a beautiful song describing the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. It includes the line – “Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of ’33”, whereas of course, the building of the dam must be credited to the working class and not to the government of the monopoly capitalists. One of his more famous songs is “Union Maid” which gives a militant trade unionist line, without any hint of the working class’ historical mission.

Take “Vigilante Man” – one of Guthrie’s songs with a political content expressed straightforwardly. One verse, the most political, states:

Preacher Casey was just a working man And he said, ’Unite all you workin’ men!’ Killed him in the river, some strange man. Was that a vigilante man.

In another song, “Tom Joad”, Guthrie answers this question, it was a deputy sheriff.

The characters Preacher Casey and Tom Joad are taken from John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath”. The CP promoted Steinbeck a lot. Today they comment that Steinbeck degenerated in his later years, but was progressive earlier. “The Grapes of Wrath” is held up as a masterpiece. Reading a few passages from this book sheds light on what Guthrie very briefly mentions. Here is some dialogue of Preacher Casey’s that calls for workers to unite:

An’ I got thinkin’, on’y it wasn’t thinkin’, it was deeper down than thinkin’. I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy when one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an’ run off his own way, kickin’ an’ draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holiness. But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella harnessed to the whole shebang – that’s right, that’s holy. An’ then I got thinkin’ I don’t even know what I mean by holy. (Literature and Ideology, p. 14, No. 13)

And Preacher Casey is the most advanced social thinker in the book. Steinbeck, like all the rest, chooses the backward elements for his characters and in their name pushes bourgeois humanism and reformism. This is the same bourgeois realist method used by John Dos Passos.

Proletarian realism, socialist realism, recognizes the reality of class struggle, of revolution, of a long history of revolutionary struggle in the U.S. and often portrays advanced elements of the proletariat. It clearly outlines the nature of the problem confronting the workers – monopoly capitalism, the relations of production protected by the bourgeois state machine. The bourgeois realist however, hiding behind backward fictional characters, mystifies this.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. (ibid, pl5)
We’re sorry, said the owner men. The bank, the fifty-thousand-acre owner can’t be responsible. You’re on land that isn’t yours. Once over the line maybe you can pick cotton in the fall. Maybe you can go on relief. Why don’t you go on west to California? There’s work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why, there’s always some kind of crop to work in. Why don’t you go there? And the owner men started their cars and rolled away. . . .
Where’ll we go? the women asked.
We don’t know. We don’t know. (ibid)

And they end up going to California. There is anger at oppression, but no clear analysis of its source, no depiction of revolutionary sentiment. This realism is avoided.

This is a few comments on CP-promoted literature and art of the 1930s. In brief, the line here is: proletarian politics/bourgeois culture. This is a crying contradiction as bourgeois culture is bourgeois politics.

To adopt the standpoint of “getting along” with bourgeois culture, to conciliate the struggle against it, or what is worse, to immerse oneself in it – is a dangerous thing to do. Eventually the proletarian politics one espouses will be wiped out by bourgeois culture. A hinge that is not used becomes worm-eaten (to state the inverse of Chairman Mao’s comments regarding the necessity for struggle against all erroneous ideas and poisonous weeds).

This stuff wouldn’t be worth noting if it were dead and gone. But some so-called Marxist-Leninists, namely the Guardian newspaper, are promoting it today. In the “Marketplace” section of the Guardian they are currently promoting the bourgeois humanism and reformism of Guthrie, Pete Seeger, as well as speeches by Fidel Castro, the social democrat composer of the movie “Z”, and other non-revolutionary material. This is the line of adaptation. That is, attempting to sneak old revisionist and reformist wares into the Marxist-Leninist movement of today. They are adapting the old to the new and trying to wipe out the new by the old.

The Guardian used to promote the so-called “youth” culture of the ’60s. And, their “Marketplace” of June, 1973 (when Guardian had already started claiming to be Marxist-Leninist) included selections from Bob Dylan. The Guardian’s celebrated adoption of Marxism-Leninism is merely a shift from opportunist politics of the ’60s to neo-revisionism. In the ’60s they promoted all of the trotskyite, revisionist, anarchist, pacifist, social democratic agitations, and they are still promoting some of them today.

Martin Nicholas, speaking in Seattle on July 25 under the auspices of the October League (ML), described the Guardian as ”beginning to concilitate revisionism”, whereas The Guardian has never opposed revisionism except in a perceptual and superficial way. Today the Guardian has simply shucked the smorgasbord of eclectic opportunism and adopted a more consistent neo-revisionist stand.

In the ’60s they could get away with promoting Bob Dylan and Eldridge Cleaver, and not be attacked from all sides. Now the situation is different. But the Guardian has not done self-criticism for tailing after every nonsensical thing that the bourgeoisie floated in the people’s movements. (1) Dylan – a main figure promoting the “generation gap”, reformism and terrorism, anarchism; (2) Jerry Rubin – “Generational war cuts across class and race lines and brings the revolution into every living room”; and (3) Cleaver – no class analysis, but sexual theories (and designer of degenerate styled men’s pants today).

What is characteristic of all this bourgeois culture is the rejection of the masses and reliance on “heroes”, and rejection of clear and scientific analysis of the political struggle for defeating U.S. imperialism, that is, anti-rational ideology. And the class collaborationist line inherent within this “youth” culture – generation gap politics is that U.S. imperialism cannot be destroyed, thus the “movement” should function as an oasis in the desert of an “affluent” culture, through “alternative” society, “taking to the streets”, etc.

As I said earlier, the Guardian does not push “youth” culture politics any longer. Have they changed fundamentally? Today their “thing” is Barbara Dane. She sings songs about how much she hates the capitalist system. She sings pessimistic Woody Guthrie songs too (“Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”, “Ludlow Massacre”) which are not revolutionary in spirit. In fact, she hates capitalism so much, she gets the blues from it; she wants to tell the whole world how depressed she is and advocates that we all get the blues too.

This is how the Guardian “adapts” itself to the new conditions, feigns a ML stance, and still promotes anti-rational, bourgeois culture, in the name of the working class. The blues with revolutionary phrases is simply a variation of the imperialist line on culture. The outright imperialist line detaches culture from politics and suggests that people should try to solve their problems through improving their consumption of mass media commercialized emotions. The Guardian steps forward to offer immersion in self-pity and depression--consuming oneself and one’s own emotions, in the guise of opposition to capitalism. The New Left line of “revolutionary politics/’youth’ culture” is adapted by the Guardian to be ”proletarian politics/bourgeois-revisionist culture”.

The Guardian opposes the CPUSA for being revisionist and says that the proletariat needs a ML Party. These intellectuals are notorious for talking a lot, opposing revisionism in the air, and not mobilizing the masses against the revisionist political line. They are side-line pamphleteers par excellance and oppose building the party in practice. They are leaders of the “expert” anti-revisionist line.

Lu Hsun said that proletarian literature “should be an intrinsic part of the proletarian struggle for liberation, growing apace with the social strength of the working class.” The proletarian revolutionary line on American culture must be to mobilize people on an anti-fascist platform and to arouse the broad masses into political action against imperialism. The point is to release the initiative of the people.

This is not a simply academic question. Certain individuals in Seattle are influencing revolutionary people to enthusiastically adopt bourgeois culture. Both May Day events in Seattle this year were forums for this activity. At one event we have the music of “Country Joe and the Fish” and “The Jefferson Airplane” promoted in a futile attempt to bring back “the good old days” of the ’60s, while the other event was capped by a “rock ’n roll” dance featuring “Famine Fruitland Band” and “Rising Storm”. From time to time some people in our own ranks get ideas like this. If one refuses to struggle against bourgeois culture, conciliates it and adopts it, there is no way of persevering in a proletarian revolutionary line. With bourgeois ideology in one’s mind, one’s practice cannot be proletarian. Marxists understand the fundamental connection between theory and practice.

In conclusion, I am not suggesting that we all become Saints or monks and cloister ourselves away from the masses in monasteries because bourgeois ideology exists in the society at-large. This “left” line can only cause harm and in fact conciliates bourgeois culture, refusing to oppose it, only in a different manner.

Seattle is a relatively petty bourgeois city. The national average of workers engaged in manufacturing is 25%, which is much higher in many industrial centers. Seattle’s rate is 20%. Since I960, manufacturing has declined from employing 26% of the workforce to 20.1%. These facts stand out. Also, Harper’s magazine has rated Seattle “the most livable city in the U.S.” because the general social atmosphere is not as decayed as elsewhere in the country in their opinion. This points to the need to be particularly vigilant against petty bourgeois ideas of complacency and “getting along” etc. and not struggling to uphold a revolutionary world-view.

Now when we mention struggling hard against revisionism, some people like to add–“but not too hard or you’ll become ultra-left like PL and CL.” One person said that we oppose revisionism too much. The revisionists help them to organize trade unions. We say that if revisionists are helping you to organize the workers then you must be organizing the workers on a revisionist basis. Ultra-Left errors occur because the struggle against revisionism has been dropped and “left” phrases adopted to cover up this capitulation.

So, in conclusion, the political and ideological independence of the working class must be resolutely maintained through, the line of the Communist Party in struggle against all opportunist trends and against all trends that would like to conciliate opportunism.