First Published: The 80’s, Vol. 1, No. 3, October 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One year ago, at its Founding Congress, the Communist Workers Party pointed out that U.S. capitalist society was heading into a period of rapid destabilization. The working class, which for the previous three decades had been put half to sleep by the revisionism of the “C”PUSA (“Communist” Party, U.S.A.) and the false prosperity of the capitalists’ temporary stabilization, would be jarred awake by the permanent economic crisis. At that time, we stated that the working class would open up to communism as never before.
We further showed that this destabilization would last at least five years (now four years), as it would take the monopoly capitalist class that long to decide and unite on a plan to pull themselves out of this crisis if they can at all. These inter-monopoly contradictions give us time to prepare for socialist revolution, time to make sure that the capitalists will not be able to stabilize their rule and again put the mass of workers back to sleep. Our task, formulated at that time was to win the majority and build up the Party “beyond defeat” in the next five years (now four years). This was called the five-year framework.
To put it more concretely, since the era of imperialism began around the turn of the century, advanced capitalist countries go through periods of destabilization every 20 years or so and the working class wakes up, becoming very receptive to communism. During capitalist destabilization the possibility arises for the working class to seize state power and establish revolutionary socialism.
But in between these destabilized periods, the working class is half asleep and the capitalist class effects its brutal dictatorship unchallenged.
So the question that faces our Party is this: what should the character of our work be and how can we utilize this situation of rapid destabilization–this relatively short period of time–in order to ensure that another 20 years of stabilization and consequently deep sleep doesn’t engulf the working class?
In this article, I would like to discuss some of the fabric and characteristics of U.S. society as compared to the third world and how this affects our preparation in periods of temporary stabilization and destabilization.
The predecessor to the Communist Workers Party, the Workers Viewpoint Organization, took shape and grew up during the period of capitalist temporary stabilization. Our membership at that time was almost exclusively drawn from the pool of advanced elements from the student, anti-war and oppressed nationality movements of the sixties and early seventies. We set ourselves the task of forming a solid core of communists, highly consolidated and trained in Marxism. We engaged in polemics with opportunist organizations (some are still around, others are long forgotten) in order to get the best elements from these earlier, partial movements. Lenin said, “Our first step was to create a Communist Party so as to know whom we were talking to and whom we could fully trust. The slogan of the First and Second congresses was ’Down with the Centrists!’ We cannot hope to master even the ABC of communism, unless all along the line and throughout the world we make short shrift of the Centrists and semi-Centrists, whom in Russia we call Mensheviks. Our first task is to create a genuinely revolutionary party and to break with the Mensheviks.” (“Speech in Defence of the Tactics of the Communist International at the Third Congress of the Communist International,” Party Work Among the Masses, p. 150) As everyone knows now, we were highly successful in this task. Because of the attention we paid to grounding ourselves in the basics of Marxism–a granite theoretical foundation, as Lenin once put it–and the principle of universal and all around preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat, we have been able to keep our orientation in a very disoriented period. This is in sharp contrast to other, opportunist organization like the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) who now proclaim capitalism stronger than ever and the Revolutionary Communist Party who are driven to a petty bourgeois frenzy because of the economic crisis.
During this period our Party built up a tradition of boldly doing propaganda among the working class. To the extent of our capabilities we tried to lend a conscious character to the workers’ spontaneous struggles. But our ability to propagate Marxism to the workers and win the advanced to the Party was limited by a number of factors.
First, the historical limitations. As stated before, we grew out of the spontaneous movements of the sixties and seventies. Our early members consisted of these advanced elements who were striving for Marxism to answer the burning questions of their day. And because of the need to form a core of professional revolutionaries our work necessarily was focused on winning the existing pool of Marxists to our line. Therefore, at that time we were not well situated in the working class.
Second, the number of advanced workers and workers open to communism was very small. This is because of the character of capitalist stabilization, brought on by the political and military hegemony of United States imperialism. During the last round of stabilization (1950s-1970s) the working class was politically asleep. Using superprofits robbed from the third world to bribe the labor aristocrats, and living off other countries (what Lenin called a rentier state), the bourgeoisie was able to morally corrupt the working class although they did not materially benefit from this wealth. In fact most workers considered themselves middle class. The labor aristocrats–the Meanys, Hoffas, and Boyles–had a stranglehold over the workers. So, although there were militant economic struggles during this time (like the perennial UMWA wildcats), the number of advanced workers and the Party’s ability to win them over was very small indeed.
From this situation follows three very important conclusions. First, in the period of capitalist temporary stabilization, the Party cannot win all or even the majority of advanced workers. Overall the working class is not open to communism. The number of workers who are is small and the Party is even smaller. Second, aside form the partial movements of the working class (Miners for Democracy and others), all strata of the oppressed nationalities, students, the poor and all the other downtrodden masses, there was no independent, multinational working class movement fighting for itself and its interests. Third, under the conditions that the main forces are not politically organized and are leaderless, it is very hard to deploy the proletariat’s direct reserves (oppressed nationalities, women’s movement, lower petty bourgeoisie) in such a way so as to strengthen and back up the working class. It is also most difficult to take advantage of the indirect reserves (inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist contradictions and contradictions among the opportunist misleaders) and they go largely unused.
In this period the Party was not mature. The maturity of the Party is a reflection of the maturity of the working class. The lack of a strong Party at that time was natural. It merely reflected that the working class, although being ruthlessly oppressed and impoverished, was still under the ideological corruption of the labor aristocracy and the imperialist classes generally. The working class at that time still had not awakened and made the transition to its present position.
Stalin said, “In this period the Party, as a driving force, was weak. It was weak not only because it itself was young, but also because the working-class movement as a whole was young and because the revolutionary situation, the revolutionary movement, was lacking, or little developed, particularly in the initial stages of this period...
The Party’s strategy–since strategy presupposes the existence of reserves and the possibility of manoeuvring with them–was necessarily narrow and restricted. The Party confined itself to mapping the movement’s strategic plan, i.e., the route that the movement should take; and the Party’s reserves–the contradictions within the camp of the enemies inside and outside of Russia–remained unused, or almost unused, owing to the weakness of the Party.
The Party’s tactics, since tactics presuppose the utilisation of all forms of the movement, forms of proletarian organisation, their combination and mutual supplementation, etc., with the object of winning the masses and ensuring strategic success, were also necessarily narrow and without scope...
In this period the Party focused its attention and care upon the Party itself, upon its own existence and preservation...
The principal task of communism in Russia in that period was to recruit into the Party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat; to form the ranks of the proletarian party and put it firmly on its feet. Comrade Lenin formulated this task as follows: “to win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism’. ..” (“The Party Before and After Taking Power,” Works, Vol. 5, pp. 103-104)
This is not to say that there was no class struggle or that the Party did not engage the class struggle in its formative years. Quite the contrary. The main problem at that time was that the class struggle was too diffuse, too localized and its forms too restrictive. There were quite a few single issues and different streamlets such as the black liberation movement, contract strikes, etc. The main fight we had to wage was to put them in perspective and give a Marxist orientation to them so that the advanced elements from these spontaneous movements would not get burned out.
By the fall of 1977, the Workers Viewpoint Organization had united in its ranks the best communists in the country that came from the earlier spontaneous movements. We were then able to turn our full attention to the task of winning the advanced workers to the Party and we vigorously went into the various industrial concentrations. One of the characteristics of temporary stabilization is partial economic struggles taking place with the total, or near total absence of political struggle. Work in this type of situation, a non-revolutionary situation, must correspond to these conditions.
That is why our Party started form the workers’ actual level at the time and picked up on these immediate struggles, gave leadership to them and in this context did propaganda to the advanced workers. Through the ties, the confidence we gained, and our organizing the workers in their day to day economic struggles we raised the political level of the advanced workers. The recruitment of these workers was basically one by one. We concentrated on painstaking accumulation of revolutionary forces to prepare ourselves for the political flow to come.
As long as national and state differences exist among peoples and countries–and these differences will continue to exist for a very long time even after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established on a world scale–the unity of international tactics of the Communist working-class movement of all countries demands, not the elimination of variety, not the abolition of national differences (that is a foolish dream at the present moment), but such an application of the fundamental principles of Communism (Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat) as will correctly modify these principles in certain particulars, correctly adapt and apply them to national and national-state differences. Investigate, study, seek, divine, grasp that which is peculiarly national, specifically national in the concrete manner in which each country approaches the fulfillment of the single international task, in which it approaches the victory over opportunism and “left” doctrinairism within the working-class movement, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and the establishment of a Soviet republic and a proletarian dictatorship–such is the main task of the historical period through which all the advanced countries (and not only the advanced countries) are now passing. (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, pp. 95-96)
What are some of the particularities of the social structure of the United States that affect our preparation for workers’ rule? How does this differ from third world countries?
The most important characteristic to take into account is the existence of bourgeois democracy.
In September, 1974 we said, “In an advanced capitalist country like the U.S....unlike semi-feudal, semi-colonial or autocratic states, bourgeois democracy is ’almost complete’.. .The existence of a relatively high degree of political liberty is a condition that maintains the separation of the mass movement of the working class from the communist movement, for it breeds bourgeois-democratic illusions among the masses. In the advanced capitalist countries, reform is the principal strategy to divert the struggle of the working class from socialism... This condition of relatively broad political liberty and reform, therefore, permits open political propaganda and agitation. At the same time, it makes economist and revisionist errors, such as serving the mass movement passively at each separate stage of its develop-ment, especially dangerous.” (Workers Viewpoint Journal, Vol.1, No.2, p. 18)
The bourgeoisie rules in this country indirectly, by default. As long as no direct political challenge is mounted to their rule, they stay in power. And as long as there is no direct challenge, they tolerate and do not fear economic struggles and struggles for partial gains. The big strike waves of 1953-54 and 1969-70, although bitter, militant struggles which hurt the bourgeoisie economically, did not by any means endanger their rule.
The bourgeoisie has learned that generally speaking it is not to their advantage to use consistent repression to smash the workers’ movement. The working class, unlike the peasantry (which is predominant in the third world) was born of modern industry. Workers from all around an area are brought together to work under one roof. Here is where the workers’ ties are, here is where their discipline is forged and wherein lays the basis for their consciousness. And here is where they organize and where their rudimentary forms of organization–the trade unions–are. Because of its social being, the working class is the most advanced, most revolutionary class and has the power to sustain its revolutionary energy. For the bourgeoisie to crush it with force (which they have tried to do) only calls forth more resistance. The power and potential of the working class lies in its capacity to organize. And the only way the bourgeoisie can rid the working class of this capacity is to shut down every factory, which of course they cannot do.
So if the proletariat has such wonderful capabilities to organize, why does the bourgeoisie not fear these partial struggles? The answer is that they have some very subtle, sophisticated (and for this reason, all the more brutal) means at their disposal to stop the proletariat. Some of the important weapons in their arsenal are the labor aristocracy in the trade unions, misleaders other partial movements and the ma media–particularly radio and TV.
By bribing the trade union leaders with super profits and corrupting them both materially and ideologically, the bourgeoisie has developed an elaborate network of agents to sabotage the workers’ movement from within. Whether it selling out strikes and organizing drives, pushing bourgeois “political action,” stifling militant fights in the grievance procedure or turning burning issues to the legislature and government agencies (like Arnold Miller did with the miners’ struggle against Black Lung) the labor aristocracy destroy the workers’ basic organizations, keep them tied to the bourgeoisie and stunt their political development and class consciousness.
Today, however, things are decidedly changing as early as May 1978, we predicted this process:
Since the trade unions are far more stable organizations than the organizations of the national movements, the misleadership in the trade unions are far more deeply entrenched. Since the political awakening of the 60s, the leadership the national movement has been fluid and has changed rapidly. From the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to the Black Panther Party, from Kawaida nationalism to Nkrumaism and Pan-Africanism to Marxism, the leading ideology changed rapidly. Incorrect views are rapidly abandoned, while the leadership is wide open. This enabled the communists to guide the national movement to a higher level as the WVO is doing today. This is different from the workers’ movement in the last 20 years.
The deepening economic crisis and the increasing attacks from the bourgeoisie has fueled the resistance of the working class. The scattered strikes of the iron ore workers, the longshoremen, the Pullman Standard workers, and the coal miners are dealing blows at the attempt of the bourgeoisie to attack the right to strike. The wage settlements in these strikes have put a big dent in Carter’s “voluntary” wage control policy. The more the government steps in, the more the state being exposed and its authority being weakened.
It is under these rapidly developing conditions that the diehard representatives of the labor aristocracy, like Meany, Fitzsimmons, and the Abel/McBride gang, are being shaken off their pedestals after twenty years of unchallenged reign. Even Arnold Miller is being exposed after only brief 6 year stint as a “reform,” second generation, sellout misleader. (Workers Viewpoint, May 1978, p. 27)
The capitalists are also skilled at keeping different movements separated, isolated a straightjacketed. They promote ‥special interest” groups and constituency politics. Each of these “streamlets of discontent” has its own voice and organization–anti-nuke, environmental, women, oppressed nationality, consumer, etc. The bourgeoisie builds these streamlets up and often funds them (poverty programs, consumer councils) while consciously channeling them into reformism and parliamentarism and fencing them off from revolutionary socialism. By promoting their pluralism, they keep these movements within the boundary of bourgeois legality.
Imperialist countries like the U.S. also have an exceptionally omnipotent mass media which they use to manipulate public opinion and dull the minds of the American people. Night after night of senseless plots, sex, violence, reformism exposes a la Lou Grant and Quincy–all this serves to confuse the masses and tell them that heaven is backbreaking labor plus a little entertainment.
In addition to all this, as a part of their dual tactics, the bourgeoisie uses reactionary violence to keep the workers away from socialism. The murders of Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, the CWP 5, and their counter intelligence and spying activities are all designed to cut the most advanced leadership away from the masses. But generally speaking, this tactic is carried out covertly, for to do it openly would wake the masses up too much and very rapidly.
In short, the bourgeoisie uses dual tactics of reform and repression to keep us down and maintain their rule. Their rule is ruthless and thoroughgoing. But the more advanced it is, the sooner they run out of tricks. And for the proletariat to make progress in our fight we must learn how to combat their rule tit for tat. And precisely because our preparation must be thorough (combating spies and terroristic attacks, parliamentary manoeuvring, learning to use the mass media, learning to attack and retreat, etc., etc.), our dictatorship, the dictatorship of the working class will be that much more thorough and effective.
Contrast this with the third world revolutions. They have a very large peasantry. And the peasantry, because of its social and economic position, although it suffers great oppression, is not as capable as the working class to organize and sustain resistance.
In the third world the dominant classes rule directly with military force. There is no bourgeois democracy, no labor aristocracy, nor any poverty pimps to dupe the masses and suffocate their struggles. All there is is naked force. Consequently the masses’ struggle is sharper and more focused against the ruling classes. The situation is generally always destabilized and the revolution’s target is clearly defined. The third world has no social props, only military props and therefore the main form of struggle is armed.
But because the main form of struggle is armed struggle and because of the large peasantry and small working class, it is difficult or impossible to master all forms of struggle. Look at Zimbabwe. After years in the bush fighting a guerrilla war, ZANU had to switch to parliamentary and diplomatic work, a sphere with which they had little experience. Further, because of these two reasons, it will be relatively harder after seizing state power to consolidate the revolution although it was relatively easier to get started because the target was clear.
Lenin pointed out that one of the fundamental reasons for the success of the Bolshevik revolution was that they went through 15 years of tremendous struggle with many varied forms of revolutionary work. He went on to say, “in order to fulfill its task, the revolutionary class must be able to master all forms, or aspects, of social activity without any exception (completing, after the capture of political power, sometimes at great risk and very great danger, what it did not complete before the capture of power)...” (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, p. 101)
The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: it is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; it is essential for revolution that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. Only when the ’lower classes’ do no want the old way, and when the ’upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way–only then can revolution triumph. This truth may be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nationwide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that for revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand that revolution is necessary and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling classes should be passing through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics (a symptom of every real revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the number of members of the toiling and oppressed masses–hitherto apathetic–who are capable of waging the political struggle), weakens the government and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to overthrow it rapidly. (Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, p. 86)
How will this happen in the United States? As to what sort of governmental crisis will occur, we cannot say. It could be a series of Watergate/Abscam scandals one after the other. Or it could be an attempted coup. Or any other sort of crisis. The point here is not what specifically will touch off the revolutionary situation, but how, in general terms, the revolutionary situation will develop.
But it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. Lenin said, “.. .it is not eve revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis ’falls,’ if it is not toppled over.” (“The Collapse of the Second International,” Against Revisionism, p. 222)
And what causes this subjective change? It is a strong, influential party that guides the work and oppressed every step of the way, ceaselessly raises its class consciousness, constantly points out the final aim of the movement and leads them in the fight for that aim.
As we have seen, conditions in the U.S. much different than in the third world. When capitalism becomes destabilized, there is a pre-revolutionary situation lying in between a non-revolutionary and a revolutionary situation. The pre-revolutionary situation will not necessarily take the form of a nationwide flow, as in Russia in 1912-1914. We have consistently pointed out that the American workers are waking up under the impact of the economic crisis and this awakening is taking the form at this point of mass disorientation. After decades of dreaming of a better life, they are seeing all their hopes slipping away, never again to return.
The disorientation, the disillusionment with the “American way of life,” has not led yet to a nationwide upsurge. It has led to the workers questioning their whole lives, asking is it all worth it, what is it all about? What we’re seeing is the beginning of judgment day.
Precisely because of this questioning, this thoroughgoing search for answers, the partial struggles, the different “streamlets of discontent” do not hold the same interest and importance they once had. During the temporary stabilization the questions were economic questions–more wages, better working conditions, winning a particular strike, etc. And while these questions still exist and in fact intensify because of the economic crisis, they are dwarfed by the larger questions of the workers’ whole lives and their future direction. The economic struggles that do go on now assume a whole new light. Strikes are at an all-time low; but the workers that do strike stay out longer, much longer than before. They are also much more militant and violent as in the Washington, Indiana strike where the workers blew up the mayor’s house for assisting the scabs. This single strike, which is becoming more typical, shows the working class’ desperation, their growing awareness that they cannot live in the old way.
So it is not yet a nationwide upsurge. The pre-revolutionary situation caused by the rapid capitalist destabilization shows itself in the form of pockets of struggle, pockets of resistance. Here Miami and Levittown, there Washington, Indiana, and San Diego; here Greensboro, there Kokomo. A nationwide revolutionary situation will occur; it can come anytime within the next two years. On this score there can be no doubt. And this will mean several things for our work. But the question at hand is how do we prepare now, in a pre-revolutionary situation to be in a good position when the revolutionary situation does come?
Our tasks in this period are as follows. We must broaden out to and reach the majority of American people; we must participate in local and national agitation to swing the mood of the majority and change the political scenery; we must build our existing cadre core into a vanguard mass communist party through propaganda; we must effect all around military preparation for the revolutionary situation ahead. This is what is required for our political and military preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat–workers’ rule in the United States.
If our scope of activity, our ability to win over the advanced workers and mobilize the reserves was restricted during temporary stabilization, it is just the opposite in this period. Our recruitment in this period is not one by one, but groups and circles of advanced workers. The possibilities for all of this increases and it can be achieved if we do our work well and implement our tasks. These tasks are designed so that we can become well situated in the working class to take advantage of the coming revolutionary situation.
First, our Party now has the opportunity to win over the majority of the advanced workers in the country. During stabilization, as we have seen, the number of advanced workers was small and our ability to win them over was limited. But now, with the grip of the labor aristocrats being shattered, and under the impact of the economic crisis, the number of advanced workers is rapidly multiplying. These workers are politically far-sighted and revolutionary, but for the most part are not Marxist.
The Party must become the decisive ideological and political leadership of the working class. Winning over the advanced workers is important because the advanced workers determine the character and level of the workers’ movement and are its independent leaders. The relationship between the advanced workers and communists is also a gauge of the development of the working class movement and the state of fusion between the working class and communist movements. It is therefore a gauge of how far the Party has come to becoming the decisive ideological and political leadership of the class as a whole.
Lenin said, that, “The fact that the working class participates in the political struggle, and even in political revolution, does not in itself make its politics Social-Democratic politics.” (What Is To Be Done?) This means that they are won over to the side of seeing the necessity for workers’ rule–the dictatorship of the proletariat. And to the extent that they do not see this fundamental aim, to that extent the Party’s concrete ability to recruit them is hampered.
This is and will be especially crucial in the Party’s attempt to lead the masses to seizing state power from the bourgeoisie in a revolutionary situation. For at a time when the working class must move in unison under the Party’s leadership–when all the factors for a revolutionary situation are ripe–any vacillation, doubt, hesitancy, discord, lack of resoluteness on the part of the advanced workers, or at least the majority of them–will put the seizure of state power in doubt. If the advanced vacillate, the masses will do so thousand times more.
Comrade Jerry Tung, General Secretary of the Communist Workers Party, recently had this to say about the importance of propaganda in building up the Party: “So our approach is that, in terms of the character of the Party’s task, we must meet the polarization head-on. You must take propaganda, the Party’s line, out there and run the line from morning to evening. You gotta run it. Otherwise, it will not be strong enough. People’s families are being affected by the crisis in such a thoroughgoing way. People’s families are breaking apart. People are losing their jobs. Their kids may never get jobs, from their perspective, in their lifetimes. They face the danger of losing their houses, and even their cars. In a situation like that, if you don’t run the line now, they won’t remember you six days later. You’ll just be another person. So you must run the line now. You cannot just talk about you’re affected by the crisis because you’re a worker. You’re affected by the crisis because you’re Afro-American or you’re affected by this crisis because nuclear power is coming. You cannot deal with it one issue at a time anymore. You have to run the full line. You have to explain to them the crisis of capitalism, and then show the relation of all those other things to it. Otherwise the line will not be sharp enough and the leadership will not be strong enough for them.”
We must boldly recruit these workers and expand our cadre core into a vanguard mass communist party. Without the advanced workers in the Party or under its influence, there is no way we can command the authority and respect needed to lead the masses in struggle. The working class would remain leaderless and the Party would turn into an insignificant sect instead of the vital political force it must be.
In addressing why the Party must recruit broadly in times of mass ferment, Lenin said,
Danger may be said to lie in a sudden influx of large numbers of non-Social Democrats into the Party. If that occurred, the Party would be dissolved among the masses, it would cease to be the conscious vanguard of its class, its role would be reduced to that of a tail. That would mean a very deplorable period indeed. And this danger could undoubtedly become a very serious one if we showed any inclination towards demagogy, if we lacked party principles (programme, tactical rules, organisational experience) entirely, or if those principles were feeble and shaky. But the fact is that no such ’ifs’ exist. We Bolsheviks have never shown any inclination towards demagogy. On the contrary, we have always fought resolutely, openly and straightforwardly against the slightest attempts at demagogy: we have demanded class-consciousness from those joining the Party, we have insisted on the tremendous importance of continuity in the Party’s development, we have preached discipline and demanded that every Party member be trained in one or other of the Party organisations. We have a firmly established Party programme which is officially recognised by all Social-Democrats and the fundamental propositions of which have not given rise to any criticism (criticism of individual points and formulations is quite legitimate and necessary in any live party). We have resolutions on tactics which are consistently and systematically worked out at the Second and Third Congresses and in the course of many years’ work of the Social-Democratic press. We also have some organisational experience and an actual organisation, which has played an educational role and has undoubtedly borne fruit, a fact which may not be immediately apparent, but which can be denied only by the blind or by the blinded. “Let us not exaggerate this danger, comrades, Social-Democracy has established a name for itself, has created a trend and has built up cadres of Social-Democratic workers. And now that the heroic proletariat has proved by deeds its readiness to fight, and its ability to fight consistently and in a body for clearly-understood aims, to fight in a purely Social-Democratic spirit, it would be simply ridiculous to doubt that the workers who belong to our Party, or who will join it tomorrow at the invitation of the Central Committee, will be Social-Democrats in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness. Don’t invent bugaboos, comrades! Don’t forget that in every live and growing party there will always be elements of instability, vacillation, wavering. But these elements can be influenced, and they will submit to the influence of the steadfast and solid core of Social-Democrats. (“The Reorganization of the Party,” Collected Works, Vol. 10, pp. 31-32)
As long as the question was (and in so far as it still is) one of winning over the vanguard of the proletariat to Communism, so long, and to that extent, propaganda was in the forefront; even propaganda circles, with all the defects of the circle spirit, are useful under these conditions and produce fruitful results. But when it is a question of practical action by the masses, of the disposition, if one may so express it, of vast armies, of the alignment of all the class forces of the given society for the final and decisive battle, then propaganda habits alone, the mere repetition of the truths of “pure” Communism, are of no avail. In these circumstances one must not count in thousands, as the propagandist does who belongs to a small group that has not yet given leadership to the masses; in these circumstances one must count in millions and tens of millions. In these circumstances we must not only ask ourselves whether we have convinced the vanguard of the revolutionary class, but also whether the historically effective forces of all classes–positively of all the classes of the given society without exception–are aligned in such a way that everything is fully ripe for the decisive battle: in such a way that 1) all the class forces hostile to us have become sufficiently entangled, are sufficiently at loggerheads with each other, have sufficiently weakened themselves in a struggle which is beyond their strength; that 2) all the vacillating, wavering, unstable, intermediate elements–the petty bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeois democrats as distinct from the bourgeoisie have sufficiently exposed themselves in the eyes of the people, have sufficiently exposed themselves through their practical bankruptcy; and that 3) among the proletariat a mass sentiment in favour of supporting the most determined, supremely bold, revolutionary action against the bourgeoisie has arisen and begun vigorously to grow. Then revolution is indeed ripe; then, indeed, if we have correctly gauged all the conditions indicated and briefly outlined above, and if we have chosen the moment rightly, our victory is assured. (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, pp. 98-99)
The final and decisive battle is not an immediate question for us now; however, great attention should be paid to this passage by Lenin. With a nationwide resistance developing in pockets, the question confronts us: how can we win over the majority?
All classes are going into motion now. In different parts of the country, and at different times, the masses are waging a fight whose basic content is saying “we cannot live in the old way.” Not only is it also possible to win over the majority of advanced workers to the Party, it is also possible to win over the majority of the whole working class and its reserves. The possibilities for work among all classes and strata is better than ever before.
Propaganda, which is absolutely necessary to build the CWP into a mass communist party, is insufficient for this task. Only agitation and action can crystallize the masses’ sentiment and change the political scenery. The bourgeoisie knows this. That is why they didn’t confine themselves to chauvinist propaganda; they had to use anti-Iranian agitation and counterrevolutionary demonstrations in order to whip up chauvinism, scapegoat foreigners for the problems and therefore change the whole mood of the country. That, too, is their only hope to guarantee any interest in the presidential elections. Reagan’s and Carter’s campaign have no content but catchy slogans and blaming each other.
The Bolsheviks under Lenin learned this lesson, too. Commenting on the political values of a 400,000 strong march under Bolshevik slogans, Lenin said, “The mutual position of the classes, their correlation in the struggle against each other, their strength, particularly in comparison with the strength of the parties, were all revealed so distinctly, so strikingly, so impressively by last Sunday’s demonstration that, whatever the course and pace of further developments, the gain in political awareness and clarity has been tremendous.” (“The Eighteenth of June,” Between the Two Revolutions, p. 293)
The party has been able to crystallize the masses’ deepest sentiments through its campaign to serve notice to the politicians at the Democratic Convention. The purpose of this campaign was to focus the masses’ attention and public opinion of the brittleness of the capitalist system and point out that they have a fighting chance in following the CWP toward socialist revolution.
From the outset of the campaign the Party carried out mass propaganda explaining the economic crisis and why socialism is the only solution. Propaganda posters went up in every major city–and then some–creating mass debates and forums on the merits of socialism versus capitalism. The Party was able to reach millions upon millions of people with its message.
Our daily mass propaganda, which spoke for the American workers and oppressed, laid the basis for our agitation and crystallization of the masses’ sentiment by our frontal assault on the Convention itself.
Lenin said, “It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are politically oppressed (no more than it was to explain to them that their interests were antagonistic to the interests of the employers). Agitation must be conducted over every concrete example of this oppression.. .And inasmuch as this oppression affects the most diverse classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity, industrial, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc., etc., is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organization of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects! In order to carry on agitation around concrete examples of oppression, these examples must be exposed...” (What Is To Be Done?, pp. 70-71)
Our agitation and action throughout the Democratic Convention, culminating in the frontal assault, was such political exposure. With the eyes of the whole country on the Democratic Convention, we cut through the bourgeoisie’s media blockade, slapped them in the face, exposed to the masses the brittleness of the capitalist system and showed them that they do have a fighting chance.
This message rippled out beyond the demonstration. This message succeeded in getting out to the whole country. During the week of the Convention and the week prior to it, the capitalists’ main worry was the CWP. The police department tried to box us in and even said they would give us a choice spot to demonstrate. The news media all betrayed their concern with questions like, “What is the CWP up to?” The Party’s task was to bring out to the American people that we are the only effective opposition to the monopoly capitalist class. The Party’s prestige and the masses’ openness to us has increased many times over as a result of our Serve Notice campaign.
Our aim in reaching out to the majority and bringing them under the leadership of the Party is to create an independent, mass workers movement for socialism. The majority of people are disillusioned and have deep questions about the prospects of life under capitalism. We must not delay this task. “Remember,” Lenin said, “that every moment of delay in this task will play into the hands of the enemies of Social-Democracy; for the new streams are seeking an immediate outlet, and if they do not find a Social-Democratic channel they will rush into a non-Social-Democratic channel.” (“New Tasks and New Forces,” Party Work Among the Masses, p. 20)
Agitation must be linked with propaganda in that it, too must put forth socialist revolution as the only alternative to more suffering and win the broad masses to the movement for workers’ rule. We cannot confine the ideas of socialism to propaganda–even mass propaganda. If we don’t reach the majority of Americans with the need for socialism, then some other political trend will reach them with their solution. This is especially true for the U.S. with its long history of bourgeois pluralism. The two roads in the 80’s and socialism must be put on the agenda of our agitation over each and every issue facing Americans without exception. And we must participate in pacesetting struggles to make this concrete for them.
Stalin said, “Slogans are still more important in the political sphere, when one has to deal with tens and hundreds of millions of the population, with their diverse demands and requirements.
A slogan is a concise and clear formulation of the aims of the struggle, near or remote, given by the leading group, let us say, of the proletariat, by its party. Slogans vary in accordance with the different aims of the struggle, aims embracing either a whole historical period or individual stages and episodes of the given historical period. The slogan “Down with the autocracy” which was first advanced by the “Emancipation of Labour” group in the ’eighties of the last century, was a propaganda slogan, since its aim was to win over to the Party individuals and groups of the most steadfast and sturdy fighters, in the period of the Russo-Japanese war, when the instability of the autocracy became more or less evident to large sections of the working class, this slogan became an agitation slogan, for it was designed to win over vast masses of the toilers.” (“Concerning the Question of Strategy and Tactics of the Russian Communists. Stalin’s Collected Works, Vol. 5, P. 174)
Building up a mass workers’ movement for socialism does not mean that every worker must be Marxist and be theoretically clear on the principles of communism. What it does mean, though, is that the working class and oppressed feel that the Party is the only political force capable of leading them. Most workers will not be clear about the aims of the movement; many will have criticisms or disagree with all or part of our political program. But what unites them solidly behind the Party is our demonstrated ability to lead, our moral authority.
Why will the workers, the masses, and the Party line up in this fashion? Because under capitalism it is impossible to create a “new socialist man” with socialist consciousness. The daily grind, the struggle just to survive, keeps people down and provides little or no opportunity for the masses to politically develop and become convinced communists. The masses make revolution out of necessity, not out of a theoretical, but out of a practical, understanding of the need for revolution.
From this follows several important conclusions. First, we must seize state power when the opportunity arises; we cannot and will not demand that the whole working class be convinced Marxists before we seize power. The overthrow of the capitalist class is just the first step of the revolution; it is not the end, not by a long way. Only after we have state power can we begin in earnest the arduous task of raising the workers and oppressed to a communist level of consciousness.
But the working class must emancipate itself. No one can do it for them. And we cannot be “communist social workers” who, instead of organizing the workers themselves to fight for their interests, try to patch up the problems of capitalism and make life “better” for the workers. Inherent in our method of preparation for workers’ rule is organizing the workers in their class struggle against the capitalists and in the course of this fight raise the political level of the working class as high as possible.
Lenin said, “...the idea, common among the old parties and the old leaders of the Second International, that the majority of the exploited toilers can achieve complete clarity of socialist consciousness and firm socialist convictions and character under capitalist slavery, under the yoke of the bourgeoisie (which assumes an infinite variety of forms that become more subtle and at the same time more brutal and ruthless the higher the cultural level in a given capitalist country) is also idealisation of capitalism and of bourgeois democracy, as well as deception of the workers. In fact, it is only after the vanguard of the proletariat, supported by the whole or the majority of this, the only revolutionary class, overthrows the exploiters, suppresses them, emancipates the exploited from their state of slavery and immediately improves their conditions of life at the expense of the expropriated capitalists–it is only after this, and only in the actual process of an acute class struggle, that the masses of the toilers and exploited can be educated, trained and organised around the proletariat under whose influence and guidance they can get rid of the selfishness, disunity, vices and weaknesses engendered by private property; only then will they be converted into a free union of free workers.” (“Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International,” Party Work Among the Masses, p. 114)
We must utilize all forms of struggle in order to reach the masses. Not only direct Party work, but united front work as well. Not only mass political action, but parliamentary action as well. Not only peaceful, but military, too. In May 1978 we said:
We must learn to work in old (parliamentary and legal) and new (violent and illegal) forms in a new way, because we are carrying out a new type of preparation– So comrades who become, say, union officials, cannot know just how every other union official carries out their tasks, but we must use this form in a new way to serve all-rounded and systematic preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat. These comrades must “influence their environment in the spirit of the whole Party and not allow the environment to swallow them up.” To know the workers’ sentiments is most fundamental. But they have to be bold in plunging into the superstructure work, and all this must be done in the spirit of Partyism. (Workers Viewpoint, May 1978, p. 28)
We must utilize all forms of struggle in order to reach the masses. Not only direct Party work, but united front work as well. Not only mass political action, but parliamentary action as well. Not only peaceful, but military, too. This is true for all times, but even more so in destabilization. We are living in extremely volatile times and conditions change rapidly. Public opinion switches course in a matter of a day and in the course of a day, or a week at most, we can be looking at an entirely different situation, Rip Van Winkle style.
In addition, as Lenin said, “History generally, and the history of revolutions in particular, is always richer in content, more varied, more many-sided, more lively and ’subtle’ than even the best parties and the most class conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes imagine. This is understandable, because even the best vanguards express the class consciousness, will, passion and imagination of tens of thousands; whereas revolutions are made, at moments of upsurge and the exertion of all human capacities, by the class consciousness, will, passion and imagination of tens of millions, spurred on by a most acute struggle of classes.” (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, p. 100)
Therefore, we must combine the strictest devotion to Communist ideas with the practical ability to manoeuvre, compromise and retreat to reach the broad masses. Moreover, we must learn how to correctly combine these different forms of struggle and maximize the Party’s impact. A brief look at the Party’s work after the assassination of the CWP 5 will illustrate this.
The government hoped to kill our Party on November 3 and either force us underground or turn us toward reformism by scaring us. We did neither. Right after the Massacre, the Party took the political offensive in many ways. The eyes of the whole country were upon us. To get our message across to the American people and avenge our comrades’ deaths, we took vanguard actions around the country and confronted the FBI directly. We doubled and tripled our agitation and newspaper sales at the plant gates. We correctly utilized the bourgeois media. All this and more led up to the Party’s armed funeral march where we combined the firm principle of armed self-defense with negotiations and forced the state to back down before us. Had we not skillfully utilized these different forms, we would not have succeeded in drawing the masses into the fight to avenge the CWP 5. And with the whole world watching, we would have failed in showing it that the U.S. monopoly capitalists can be beat and socialism is a real possibility in the U.S.
As the pre-revolutionary situation develops and becomes a nationwide revolutionary crisis, the Party must put forth transitional demands. In Russia, these demands were for peace, bread and freedom and “All Power to the Soviets!” The Party must utilize the everyday needs of the masses and advance transitional slogans and partial demands corresponding to these needs. But they must be bent in such a way so as to lead the masses in the decisive battle for power. They must be brought into such a position where there is “on the one hand, a conscious, firm and unswerving resolve on the part of the class conscious elements to fight to the end; and on the other, a mood of despair among the broad masses who feel that nothing can now be saved by half-measures; that you cannot ’influence’ anybody; that the hungry will ’smash everything, destroy everything, even anarchistically,’ if the Bolsheviks are not able to lead them in a decisive battle.” (Lenin, “Letter to Comrades,” Between the Two Revolutions, p. 499)
The essence of the transitional demands are for socialism; that is, only under workers’ rule can these demands be met. But taken by themselves, transitional demands are not socialist demands. Bread, peace, and freedom is not yet socialism. All Power to the Soviets is not yet socialism. The demands and slogans are put forward to unleash the masses’ fighting ability and help them to realize that socialism is the only solution.
Actually the scope of the revolution, its tasks and methods are much broader than this. Seizing state power is only the first step. It is not the end of the revolution, not by a long way. The leadership of the working class, the Communist Workers Party, cannot define the tasks of the revolution in terms of the transitional demands, because these demands are only used to bring the masses in a position to follow and support the Party in seizing power.
The whole political and economic situation today is so inflammable that any spark can set off a spontaneous revolutionary situation. It could be religious persecution. It could be the murder of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance salesman, by killer cops. But waging a vigorous fight against these manifestations of oppression in no way means we endorse worship of God or petty bourgeois exploitation.
To reduce communism to these demands, to equate our communist program for the dictatorship of the proletariat with the partial, transitional demands is to degrade communism. For the Party to equate the two in a revolutionary situation would mean that it could very well lose orientation and be unable to move on to solve the much more complicated problems of continuing the revolution under workers’ rule.
And to do this now, to say, “Socialist revolution means death to killer cops,” would really throw us off course. We do use inflammable material for propaganda and agitation. Police murder or any immediate issue can be the starting point for communist agitation and propaganda. But to reduce our propaganda and agitation to “Socialist revolution means death to killer cops” limits our work and in the case of this slogan will turn us into a terroristic sect. Especially now–when we are building up the Party’s forces and the majority of workers and oppressed are open but disoriented–to define communism in terms of killer cops, or gas shortages, or high food prices, or whatever, means depriving the vanguard of the sweep it needs to build itself up.
The decade of the 80s was ushered in by the murder of the CWP 5. The next day, Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy; the biggest wave of chauvinism in decades was the temporary response of many Americans. But many of the same people who demonstrated against the Iranians also hit the streets against the draft, clearly targeting the oil monopolies.
This is all a reflection of the American working class waking up from a three decade-long sleep. To be sure, the disorientation is great; but this is an inevitable occurrence when they are just stirring and questioning literally everything. There is no one issue right now to crystallize the masses’ resistance. Everything is the issue. People’s whole lives under capitalism is the issue.
The Party’s main task now is to explain every aspect of the worker’s situation, every aspect of their oppression without exception, from the standpoint of the extensive decay of capitalism. Our propaganda must reach out to the majority and explain why socialism is the only solution. We must start from the appearance of things (“Iran is pushing us around bullying us,” or “socialism means oppression like in Russia”) and patiently explain again and again why capitalism is the source of the workers’ misery.
At the same time we must lead pacesetting fights, like the Kokomo action and the Democratic Convention campaign–struggles which establish the Party at the forefront of the working class and which establish its moral authority.
If we keep to this orientation, we will be able to take advantage of the excellent situation ahead and provide the working class the leadership it needs to seize state power and establish socialism.