Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Open Letter to CPML

First Published: The New Voice, Vol. IX, No. 12, November 10, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Communist Party Marxist-Leninist will hold its Second Congress sometime in the next several months. The CPML has invited comments and suggestions from outside the Party. Earlier this year The Call printed an exchange between its editor and a member of The New Voice as part of such discussion.

Because of the CPML’s importance in our communist movement, TNV views its deliberations and activities in a serious, comradely way. The open letter (already provided to the CPML) is written in this spirit.

* * *

Dear Comrades of the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist:

We are deeply concerned about the current problems of the CPML. Not only has the CPML suffered losses in newspaper readership and support, level of activity in some parts of the country, etc.; not only has a general review of basic policies become necessary for the Party; but also, in our opinion, the CPML stands at a crossroads between two alternative orientations. The choice between them will profoundly affect the CPML and, because of the CPML’s importance, the entire movement of which our two organizations are a part.

Our movement is founded on two basic understandings. First, we are committed to the need for proletarian revolution in the United States to break up the capitalist state machine and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat for the entire period of socialism until classes have disappeared. This commitment is in your Party program and is part of the basic line of The New Voice as well as the other organizations in our communist movement. By standing on this principle, regardless of when a revolutionary situation might arrive and regardless of the tactics necessary today and in the foreseeable future, we stand in defense of Marxism-Leninism and in opposition to the Communist Party USA, the various Trotskyite groups, social democrats and others who hold views incompatible with the dictatorship of the proletariat. Furthermore, we stand in contrast to those who evade a definite answer on this principle.

Second, our organizations have a basic understanding of the threat of a third world war and the fact that the principal, global, overall contradiction in the world today leading to a world war is the one between the Soviet social-imperialists on one hand and the rest of the world on the other hand. By standing on this fact, regardless of differences about the exact disposition of forces in the world and about the special tasks of revolutionaries in the United States, we stand in opposition to the open pro-Soviet groups as well as those who deny the fundamental reality of the international situation, including the so-called anti-dogmatist trend and such ultra-leftist, wrecking groups as the RCP and the Communist Workers Party.

No one should underestimate the extent and value of agreement on these two principles concerning revolution and world war. They summarize areas of agreement in an extensive number of problems and issues. When it comes to fighting racism and national oppression, for example, a large part of the disagreement between our movement and the CPUSA revolves around the CPUSA’s essentially reformist program and practice, as a reading of their literature and experience with them in coalitions (such as the one TNV participated in with them to oppose the Weber case) shows. The existence of such areas of agreement should be recognized and honored as we struggle over questions like how to respond to busing plans, how to win white working people to the anti-racist struggle, and how to understand the right of nations to self determination for black people, Chicanos, Native Americans and various national minorities.

Acknowledging all of this unity, we must face the difficulties that have accumulated over the past few years. They have placed before the CPML and all of us the question: which way forward? So far, the main result of re-examination has been the view that a whole series of mistakes comprise an ultra-leftist trend that must be corrected.

“Ultra-leftism,” like its companion term rightism, can be a short circuit in our brains if we let it suggest that the corrections needed amount to some turn rightward. The communist movement has a kind of working categorization that springs to mind here: to move in one direction, you emphasize unity; to move in the other, you emphasize struggle To make one kind of correction, you get back to where the masses are at; to make the other kind of correction you hold high the banner of class struggle and revolution. To shift gears in one direction you seek alliances with social democratic, liberal and progressive leaders; to shift gears in the other direction, you appeal to the rank and file of their organizations and adopt the policy of “united front from below.”

This is a sterile way to analyze and solve problems. It is abstract and mechanical instead of concrete and reflective of the specific situation we face in the United States in 1980. We should not fall prey to this automatic analysis, neither directly nor by an indirect route. The latter is more subtle: a long, even concrete and thorough criticism of ultra-leftism in the past does not lead to a concrete analysis of how to proceed anew. Instead, it smuggles in unargued, unexamined conclusions that amount to saying we should “obviously” make certain alliances, endorse certain candidates in elections, and draw up certain kinds of legislative programs. Yet if we look back, we find that the proponents of this approach have spent all their time criticizing ultra-leftism and have not argued positively for what must go in its place. No automatic reversal of policies can solve problems, contrary to this wrong way of campaigning against ultra-leftism.

The purpose of this letter is to make some suggestions for you to consider in this period of discussion leading up to the CPML’s Second Congress. Let us begin with four recommendations on the Party’s mass work, newspaper, program and electoral participation.

1. The CPML should concentrate the Party’s attention on work among the people, building bases and contributing to struggles. By mass work we refer to the Party’s work in U.S. society at large through the workplace, single-issue struggles, groups that organize in one social sector (among black people, women, veterans, youth, etc.), and our communities. The CPML should aim to join any struggle where “the masses” are found–not as measured by large or small numbers, but wherever ordinary people concerned about an issue of struggle are gathering. In these struggles (which will have to be prioritized, of course) the CPML should aim to serve the people, to win the reform or concession they need, to spread Marxism-Leninism, and to win friends and recruit.

We see this choice in opposition to seeking mass influence in American political life. We are not against the Party becoming a big influence, but we must begin from the political and material resources we have and work patiently among the people. From what we can see, it is highly unlikely that the CPML (or the CPML, The New Voice and whoever else might unite together, for that matter) can aim to make a Marxist-Leninist party into a mass influence very soon. Since we do not want to give up our Marxist-Leninist character, and since we still believe in following the revolutionary road with confidence that it will in fact lead to revolution, the CPML should not seek popular influence by short-cuts. Among these illusory shortcuts are such practices as trimming an independent stand against social democracy in order to ride the coattails of the Citizens Party or various up-and-coming trade union officials, devoting a significant chunk of Party resources to working at the top with national coalitions and committees by assigning high-level Party people to them, giving overly favorable coverage to events staged by the Progressive Alliance and similar forces, and yielding nearly all the independence of the left in strikes in order to keep a debilitating peace with union bureaucrats who are busy mismanaging those strikes (such as the Local 2 hotel strike in San Francisco).

We are not against alliances and participation in coalitions (we have done it often), but communists must handle them realistically based on the strength they represent from their own mass work.

So let the CPML concentrate the Party’s attention on mass work among the people. One of the CPML’s strengths is its body of dedicated members with many years of experience in various trade union and mass struggles. (We believe this is one of The New Voice’s strengths, too.) We “know our way around” a lot of struggles and issues. We have negative experience, too: we know that influence is not gained only by preaching a line, issuing a class struggle slogan, or trying to take over steering committees. Influence in a mass struggle is gained by suggesting, speaking for and demonstrating effective militant tactics; by helping to educate people about the issue at hand; and by defeating mis-leadership on the merits of what serves the struggle, question by question and event by event.

As communists with a long term and basic goal, we should integrate work in service to the struggle with spreading Marxism-Leninism. This includes making a concrete application of Marxism-Leninism to the struggle–without our own terminology but with a class analysis as it applies to the issue, with exposure of the class nature of the state, and with lessons about winning reforms while rejecting the path of reformism. Spreading Marxism-Leninism also includes letting people know that communists help fight the struggle, in a way adapted to circumstances (sometimes individual, sometimes open; sometimes sooner, sometimes later).

If we do these things, then it will be a natural step to consolidate friendships (in the political sense as well as personal) and to recruit, that is, to switch over with selected people from one episode of class struggle to taking up the work of proletarian revolution.

2. The CPML’s newspaper The Call should be imbued with class consciousness. It is no contradiction to write a newspaper that takes up topical issues and struggles, is popular in style, and is imbued with class consciousness. By such consciousness we mean more than the Party’s current slogans or thrusts, even strategic ones, although these must be integrated into the newspaper. We mean the accurate, concrete application of the world outlook, we accept–Marxism-Leninism–throughout the newspaper.

This choice is in opposition to lowering the ideological level of the newspaper in the mistaken belief that this will win more readers. A portion of every article and even the whole of a few articles will amount to mere news roundups, but most articles can integrate Marxist-Leninist analysis into the material. We believe readers appreciate having the logic of events made plain. Marxism-Leninism is the tool that can give the reader this explanation which need not be tacked on like a sermon to hard news.

In the search for a non-ultra-leftist approach, some articles in The Call have been overly soft on this content or even contain basic errors of theory. The obituary of Jean-Paul Sartre skirted his existentialist philosophy, and an article on supply-side economics erroneously agreed with reactionaries that tax concessions to the wealthy would stimulate productive investment. And, as a reader noted, Lysenko’s views on inheritance are in the heritage of scientific biology, not an aberration from it.

While it is better to have a larger newspaper and a frequently published one, we agree with the need for realism in these matters. The New Voice’s newspaper is published every four weeks and has eight pages, and we think most of you would agree it is readable and good tool for our work; we also think it is imbued with class consciousness. The CPML has more resources than we do. We do not think a drive is necessary for a slick product to satisfy some preconceived notion.

The Party newspaper can be live and have both short and long articles, both lighter and heavier pieces. It can appeal in some article: to anyone and in others to advanced workers or communists only. It ca: do these things and be imbued with class consciousness, providing the CPML with a newspaper that is a revolutionary agitator, propagandist and organizer.

3. The CPML should develop a more concrete revolutionary program. We do not mean a specific list of reform demands, but a more concrete treatment of revolution and our program and goals for it. In order to concentrate the attack on the monopoly capitalists, for example, the program should make it clear what property we aim to socialize right after the proletarian revolution begins and what property would be left in private hands. The petty bourgeoisie, small capitalists and even middle capitalists should know what they will lose and what they will keep; what regulations will be enforced (a progressive labor law, example) and also what real opportunity they will have to keep operating because it will benefit the economy and increase social unity (The New Voice has made some suggestions along these lines in its pamphlet, Strategy for Revolution, Build the Great Unity of the Working Class.)

Another part of the program that needs to be made more concrete is the explanation of basic revolutionary strategy. In the founding program this strategy is the united front against imperialism in the United States, but the explanation of it is seriously lacking. Much of it consists of seemingly orthodox communist points and slogans, but they do not fit together and make sense.

Programs are important! Marxists have always sought to make clear statements of basic theses and pro gram, while opportunism feeds on avoiding them. A program helps disagreements above the level of personalities, organizational competition and universal condemnation of an opponent. A program is valuable explaining the Party to people we work with, in contrasting ourselves to reformists and directing political questions at them, and in uniting own movement, too. In the past, for example, the October League and The New Voice used bridge-burning language against each other. One practice that has helped each side take a more analytical approach to the other, we believe, has been the definition of a CPML program and corresponding efforts by The New Voice in its basic pamphlets.

4. The CPML should aim to run a candidate or some candidates in 1982. If the resources are not there to make this a feasible part of the Party’s work, then it will have to be postponed, but we hope this is not the case. The candidate should run on a CPML platform and should integrate an educational goal of the campaign with some ongoing practical work. Depending on the position and the situation, the candidate might even win office, that is, a forum for a communist to speak out, but the Party should not bend its educational and mass work purposes for the hope of winning office.

We make this suggestion in contrast to the desire to enter electoral politics without an independent communist presence. The coy approach to the Citizens Party in The Call–reporting in a favorable tone but not making clear the Party attitude toward voting for it until the last minute–does the Party little good. The CPML is not enough of a force to affect the possible realignment of the U.S. election system, and too much ideological and political independence has been sacrificed trying to avoid this fact.

Having the Party’s own candidate does not rule out mutual support with another party. The Party should aim now for its own independent effort; as conditions unfold in 1982, the Party will have more strength this way to put behind another party if that is what is called for.

We have stated these four choices for the CPML–concentrating on work among the people, - imbuing the newspaper with class consciousness, developing a more concrete program for revolution, and aiming for Party election work in 1982–in order of the importance we attach to them. The general thought running through them is this: the CPML’s mission should be to set itself up as the pole of revolutionary leadership for the coming world war and revolution. The aim is to prepare the soil and forge the Party in the time remaining before war and revolution are upon us. At some point revolution will become a mass question, and then a genuine communist party will become far more than a mass influence in political life. As the threat of world war becomes imminent, the Party must have a revolutionary approach; this does not mean issuing a premature call for revolution, but it means preparation for revolution during or after war or whenever it may arrive. We cannot find a complete sense of mission in the united front tasks that a world war would almost certainly pose for us. But in any case, the Party cannot grow gradually to massive size or steady influence (although in some struggles we will make a mark equal to the Scottsboro case, the industrial union drive, etc. of the past). We should not make numbers our aim now. Instead, when the masses start questioning capitalism and are willing to put its overthrow on the agenda, our Party ’ must be the one with the program, the years of mass work, the steel body of revolutionaries, and the distinction from mere progressive sentiment and reformism needed to lead the people to victory.

After submitting these choices for the CPML’s discussion, let us dispose of one undercurrent that we hope is not really affecting anyone’s thinking, namely, the tendency to imitate political trends in China. We do not give much weight to the argument that we in the U.S. share with the Chinese communists a need to correct ultra-leftist thinking. U.S. political life in the 1960’s was profoundly altered by the black liberation movement and the movement against U.S. imperialist aggression in Indochina, along with the general decline of U.S. imperialism from its zenith and the increasing stagnation imposed on the economy by monopoly. Whether the cultural revolution was a disaster for China or not, no one suggests that China was not a socialist country or that the basic power and Party character were not Marxist-Leninist. For us, it was a good thing that a fairly well known ideological force in the world, the country that rejected Khrushchev’s revisionism, stimulated interest in Marxism-Leninism in this time of ferment. But those of us who gathered together in TNV and, we assume, most people in our movement, went on to learn Marxism-Leninism from various sources. We tackled the problems of applying Marxism-Leninism to revolution in the United States. People did not stick to the Little Red Book or get their guidance on a weekly basis from Peking Review. While we may have a great deal more thinking to do about socialist construction in a country like China as a result of imbibing reports and theorizing from the gang of four, we did not pick up some mystical ultra-leftism that filtered into all our work here. One specific difference we must remember is that China is engaged in modernization after a successful revolution, while our main task is still the mastery of war and revolution so as to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat. We hope no one tries to solve problems in the United States by working from a shallow analogy with China.

We began this letter by observing that the CPML and TNV agree on two basic understandings concerning revolution and the Soviet role in the world. Our basic disagreement can be summed up as one over strategy for revolution in the U.S. The CPML in its re-examination of all its policies and work has potentially questioned its previous basic strategy, a strategy held throughout the various tactical periods of combatting ultra-leftism and right deviations in the last decade. The New Voice has developed its strategic principles over the years, arriving at a clear overall grasp only recently. The choice we submit to you flows from this question of strategy. Besides the importance of this question in itself for you, your decisions could lead to higher unity in our movement. This would be very good, because unity achieved on principle and carried out organizationally will itself help to overcome the present difficulties. Let us be confident that guidance from a profound and accurate revolutionary vision, combined with the dedication we have sworn by our participation in this movement, do in fact make a force that is sure to triumph.

The New Voice