First Published: The Guardian, November 19, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This contribution to the Radical Forum from the Trade Union Educational Alliance criticizes what it calls dogmatism and ultraleftism in the new communist movement and argues that these errors stem from an incorrect estimate of the decline of U.S. imperialism. The group can be reached at Box 483, Kingsbridge Station, Bronx, N.Y. 10463.
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Many movement groups and individuals have come to the realization that the study and development of Marxist-Leninist theory is crucial to the building of a communist movement.
This understanding has to a large degree developed out of criticism and struggle against the relative lack of theory and study that characterize such groups as the Revolutionary Union (RU) and the October League (OL). Some might feel that theoretical progress has been and is being made, although the pace is slow due to the newness of the trend. While we believe that some small progress is being made, there is a major contradiction preventing many forces in this movement from making any qualitatively significant progress. Until this contradiction is resolved, no amount of study or talk about the necessity of theory will bring us closer to developing Marxist-Leninist theory in the United States. And this is essential to the building of a communist movement.
What would significant theoretical progress mean? It would mean that advances were being made in developing a class analysis of contemporary American capitalism, showing the political, economic and ideological trends developing. What are the present splits in the U.S. ruling class and what do they mean? What is a Marxist-Leninist explanation for the persistent inflation since 1900? What does the Wallace movement mean and what forces are behind it? What are the various bourgeois interests in the Middle East and what are the political positions of these interests on the question of war? What is the present state of the working-class movement and why is it in such a state? These are just some of the questions that must be answered, but we maintain that there has been very little progress toward a serious analysis of these issues.
Lenin, early in the history of the Social-Democratic [Communist] Party in Russia, had to begin such an analysis of Russian society in defeating the Narodniks and using Marxism to show how capitalism was developing and how it would continue to develop. He again had to answer questions such as these in 1914-1917 when he analyzed the imperialist war and defeated Kautsky’s position of imperialism as a policy. Mao similarly had to undertake a class analysis of the role of the peasantry and the bourgeoisie and answer the same type of questions pertaining to Chinese society in the 1930s before the Chinese Communist Party could be rebuilt.
The reasons, despite much effort, we are not answering the important questions or developing Marxist-Leninist theory is that there is a fundamentally incorrect and dogmatic view of theory. This view dooms even the most studious and honest attempts at study to failure. This concept is that theory is the thorough understanding of the works of Marx, Lenin, Mao, etc. This is not the development of theory at all, only one of its prerequisites.
On any question facing the movement, theoretical development can only take place if we first get at what the principle contradiction is and then, using our understanding of Marxism-Leninism, trace its development and show its relationship to the secondary contradictions. This is not the method of many groups and individuals who are trying to study. What they do is to take the problem and show what Marx, Lenin and Mao said about it and then show how their position is therefore the correct Marxist-Leninist position. This assumes that theory is being able to apply Marx, Lenin, et. al., to the contemporary problem and not the other way around—starting from the contemporary problem and using the dialectical method to develop theory using Marxist-Leninist ideas.
The question of American fascism is an example. What would be a correct way of approaching the problem? A study would first have to discover the principle contradiction. In this case, it is probably between the deteriorating economic conditions which inevitably force the bourgeoisie to take more and more repressive measures against the working class and the political conditions which show the working class extremely divided and weak while the ruling class closes ranks. The first (economic) would tend to put on the agenda fascism versus socialism while the second negates the first and makes the political situation stable and puts off the question of fascism versus socialism for a time. We would then, using Marx, Lenin and the works of the Comintern analyze this contradiction and its development along with the many secondary contradictions. In doing this, we would expose the role of the liberal bourgeoisie and the Wallace movement and thus be in a position to refute the reformists who look to the liberal bourgeoisie as allies.
An example of the incorrect way to approach this question is found in the Workers Viewpoint Journal. They totally overlook the contradictions between the political and economic conditions and start with the assumption that because of the economic crisis the bourgeoisie will necessarily move to develop fascism. From this assumption, forgetting the contradictions involved, they outline what Lenin and the Third International said about fascism and how to defeat it. They then show how the October League’s position is not that of the Third International. All this shows that someone has studied the proper historical documents, but it does not at all mean we have made progress toward answering the questions about fascism facing the movement. All we know is what the Third International thought about fascism and that the October League’s position is not the Third International’s.
The same error is seen in the analysis of the fiscal crisis. Many groups begin with the idea that the principal contradiction is between the needs of the people and capitalism’s inability to meet those needs due to production for profit. Then if one reads the newspaper of a group like the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization, you get a couple of pages out of “Capital” explaining exchange value, use value, profit, etc. Again someone is trying to study Marx but no new theoretical development is being made and what comes out is either boring or rhetoric.
This incorrect view of theory is repeatedly seen. The problem is that in criticizing groups like RU and OL who don’t undertake serious study and therefore put out mostly rhetoric and dogmatism, some of the other forces, trying to correct this error through study, are repeating the same errors and making no real contribution.
Why, given the fact that within this new trend there are many intelligent and theoretically developed people, does this erroneous concept of theory persist? This view of theory is just one form of a more fundamental problem—the persistence of ultraleftism in the antirevisionist movement. The same ultraleft errors that Progressive Labor Party (PL) made in declaring themselves a party without a working class base are now being repeated by many others.
At the root of this ultraleftism is the view that it is impossible for capitalism to stabilize and grow. This is what leads Workers Viewpoint to say fascism is around the corner. And this idea that capitalism cannot possibly get out of economic crisis is what leads to an incorrect way of approaching study and theory. If capitalism cannot stabilize and revolution or fascism is on the agenda, there is no great need to take apart and analyze the key contradictions in present capitalist society. There is no real need to develop a theory of inflation, of the fiscal crisis, etc. If capitalism cannot possibly stabilize then the move is logically on to party building, socialism or fascism. And the painstaking efforts at discerning the contradictions and developing new insights are not needed. In this short space, we cannot elaborate. But unless this ultraleftism and particularly the ultraleft idea that capitalism is unable to temporarily stabilize is rooted out of our movement, no matter how much study we undertake, real progress will not be made.