Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’... fan the flames’

First Published: The Guardian, April 21, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that the key task of the proletarian revolution is the struggle for state power.

All other “debates”–such as, is armed struggle necessary? Is the dictatorship of the proletariat outmoded? Must there be a vanguard party structured on the basis of democratic centralism? Which class will lead the revolutionary struggle?–hinge on whether or not one accepts the assumption that the struggle for state power is at the heart of revolutionary strategy.

But it is necessary to go further. “Seizing state power” is not simply replacing bourgeois functionaries with working class functionaries. Having an antimonopoly president or congress–or even a “communist” president and legislature–is not seizing state power. To have that much is only to operate the state, to manage the state apparatus.

These are not “theoretical” questions, although Lenin’s theory of the state is the indispensable foundation for developing a strategy capable of bringing down the capitalist system. These are overwhelmingly practical questions. For it is the bourgeois state that is the chief political and military prop for the entire system of property relations on which monopoly capitalism is based. A revolutionary strategy which is not aimed at the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus and its replacement by the people’s armed power cannot be taken seriously at all.

A lack of clarity on this question is a fatal flaw for any socialist organization. It is the critical dividing point between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism, neosocial democracy, anarchism and all forms of petty bourgeois socialism.


How does modern revisionism look at this question? Let the revisionists speak for themselves:

“It is only in the present world, with the rise of state monopoly capitalism and the increasingly political character of the class struggle with the working class seeking to utilize the resources of the state for its benefit rather than that of the monopolies and allying itself with all other sections of the people oppressed by big business, that an antimonopoly movement of a different character has come into being.” (From “Some Features of U.S. Capitalist Development, ” by Hyman Lumer, member of political committee of the central committee of the U.S. Communist Party, in World Marxist Review, December 1975.)

The sentence is somewhat cumbersome, making its significance a little difficult to unravel at first, but it should be studied. What is most noteworthy about it is that Lumer accepts the view which he ascribes to the working class in the emphasized words as the basis for the CP’s “revolutionary” strategy. For we would agree that significant sections of the working class, particularly the reformist trade union leaders, have this view of getting a bigger share of the pie. But does the CP show why this view is illusory? Does it say to the workers–as every revolutionary worthy of the name ever did–that while the communists will support every struggle the workers wage to improve their lot under capitalism, it is necessary at the same time to develop the unity and fighting spirit of the working class for a showdown with capital?

Just the opposite. Lumer goes on to say that this antimonopoly movement is directed toward “curbing the power of the monopolies, toward establishing democratic controls over their operation, toward nationalization of key industries which, ultimately, establishes the basis for transition to socialism.”

This is the essence of the CPUSA’s “revolutionary” strategy, its plan for bringing socialism to the U.S. “by peaceful means, through political institutions and people’s organizations within the American constitutional framework.”


A lovely scheme, it is not? Class struggle without much struggle. Socialist revolution in which the monopoly ruling class, backed up by the most powerful war machine ever devised, will simply roll over and play dead while the workers and their allies cut them down to size bit by bit.

But this nonsense is more than juvenile. It is dangerous. It sows illusions among the workers–the more so because it is elaborated under the guise of communism and Marxism-Leninism–that there is an easy way to socialism. The revisionists constantly rave on about those who uphold the fundamental and time-tested principles of Marxism-Leninism as “unrealistic,” “adventurist,” “pseudo-left” “revolutionaries” who have no idea of the practicalities of struggle. But the revisionist nonsense of “a peaceful transition” to socialism is about the least practical strategy that has ever been devised.

Illusions about revolutionary strategy are not confined to the revisionists, of course–although theirs are the most pernicious of the lot.

At the risk of beating a dead mule, let me refer back to the work of Frank Ackerman and Harry Boyte whose pamphlet “Revolution and Democracy” has served as an ideological bellwether not just for the New American Movement (NAM) but for many a disenchanted leftist who was hostile to the CP not because that organization is revisionist but because it was at one time Leninist and still nominally upholds some Leninist ideas.

Discussing the kind of organization needed to lead the struggle for socialism, Ackerman and Boyte wrote: “Our form of organization must be different because the nature of our revolution is different and the forms of ruling class control are different .... The American ruling class rules primarily through the ’consent’ of the people–through an internalized system of beliefs which people have to become aware of and reject through struggle. The state’s monopoly of military power is normally held in reserve, to be used only in emergencies.”

Is this true? Does monopoly capital rule primarily by “consent” of the people? Is the police system–including the prisons and the courts–not the primary expression of the state’s military power and far from being “held in reserve” is it not the daily enforcer of the rule of monopoly capital?

This is not to underestimate the power of bourgeois ideology which itself is a material force in society. But how much force would that ideology have were it not for the military power of the state which enforces it every day, every hour and not “only in emergencies?”

But once Ackerman and Boyte’s thesis has been turned right side up, what remains of all the schemes for “public and democratic” organizations of “revolutionaries” who will lead the struggle for socialism? What remains of the strategy which, in essence, consists of developing the “socialist consciousness” of the working class?

The same problem brings the so-called “Mass Party of the People” concept to grief. In the essay which launched this tendency, activist lawyer Arthur Kinoy calls for “a bold new strategy which has as its aim the taking of control of every economic, social and political institution now controlled by the ruling class and the vesting of that control in the people who live and work in these institutions.”


While the sweep of this notion is designed to be somewhat breath-taking, a little thought reveals that it is neither bold nor new and, when you stop to think about it, not much in the way of a strategy.

What is missing from the “Mass Party” view, for all that it claims that it does not want to “be paralyzed by sterile and dogmatic formulations,” is any sense of the practicalities of revolution.

Marxist-Leninists have a strategy. There is nothing mysterious nor sacred about it. That strategy was made possible by Marx’s and Lenin’s deep-rooted analysis of the nature of the state–an analysis which itself flowed out of historical reality. Communists do not advance it simply because it is part of their theoretical heritage but because it is the only practical strategy for revolution.

Its essence is bound up in the first sentence in this column, that the key task ol the proletarian revolution is the struggle for state power.

Perhaps the statement will be seen as so overwhelmingly self-evident that some will think it is being belabored. So before any and all rush to accept the thesis, let them be forewarned: Once the revolutionary struggle is seen as the struggle for state power, then the necessity for both mass armed struggle and a disciplined vanguard revolutionary party in the Leninist mold follow inexorably therefrom.