Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Pacific Collective

Pacific Collective Polemic with WC (ML)

Part 1 – Views on the Advanced


First Published: The Communist, Vol. V, No. 13, June 11, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Introduction by Workers Congress

In July and August of last year THE COMMUNIST ran a series of articles summing-up the trade union work of the Pacific Collective (PC) and the Revolutionary Workers Collective (RWC), two groups in the San Francisco Bay area. Alongside of these sum-ups the WC (ML) ran its own critical commentaries on PC-RWC’s trade Union work. This article is the first of a two part series in which the PC replies to our commentaries. In this issue the PC defends their views on who they consider advanced workers. In the second part they speak to cores and forms of organization.

We plan to reply to the series after it is completed. Comrades who would like copies of the original series in THE COMMUNIST can write to us for them.

* * *

In its issues of July 31, August 14, and August 28, 1978, THE COMMUNIST published documents which we and the Revolutionary Workers Collective (RWC) had submitted, summing up our joint practical work in an industrial strike. Each issue of the paper also contained comments by the Workers Congress (M-L) on the summations. This is our belated response to those comments, particularly those pertaining to differences between the WC, on the one hand, and the Pacific Collective (PC) and the RWC on the other.

The main differences were around two closely linked questions: how to describe various strata in the US working class today, and what forms of work communists should engage in with the most progressive and active workers they find in a given workplace.

On the first question, we stated that we favor using Lenin’s definitions of the terms “advanced, intermediate, and backward workers, for reasons that we will explain below. We added that this meant that we “did not consider ’winning over the advanced’ to be one of our goals in the mass work” because, by Lenin’s definition “there were no advanced workers in the plant”. Beyond that, we said that our collective

does not describe our party building task in the workers’ movement as ’winning over the advanced’, since that expression erroneously implies the existence of a significant stratum of advanced workers and belittles the broad mass agitating and organizing that communists since Lenin have believed is essential to communist work since the Russians discovered the technique in 1895.

The Workers Congress (M-L) accuses us both of “revising Lenin’s definitions in the polemic ’Retrograde Trend’ and also of denying the fact that “there are thousands of advanced workers in this country,” (and most likely some in the plant we described).

According to the authors of the WC commentary, our purpose, in this and other alleged errors, was to justify economist opposition to “taking Marxism-Leninism to the working class... [and putting] forward an independent communist policy”. Since “forces like the Pacific Collective cannot come out openly as economists”, we “use the works of Marxism-Leninism...to attack the very foundations of orthodox Marxism-Leninism on party building and communist work in the trade unions.”

Someone is surely rewriting Lenin to suit their own purposes, but it is not the Pacific Collective.

For the Workers Congress, the word advanced can have no fixed meaning because, “in every situation, there are the advanced, the intermediate and the backward”. (THE COMMUNIST, 8/28/76, p.5) Thus they stated that the summation submitted by the RWC “incorrectly criticizes the concept of the ’relatively advanced’”. (TC, 7/31/78, p.3)

Yet what Lenin described, in the article which the WC cites, was a historically determined category of workers. He described a stratum with particular characteristics; noted that such a stratum had always developed elsewhere under certain conditions, and stated that a similar development was then taking place in Russia: “The history of the working class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every workingclass movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the laboring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement promises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect.... Real heroes are coming to the fore from amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labor, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats–’the working-class intelligentsia’.[1] This ’working-class intellegentsia’ already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders (emphasis added, PC) of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party come from its ranks.”[2] After changing a category which has been given a definite meaning by history into a relative one, how do our faithful defenders of Lenin define advanced worker?

We hold that an advanced worker must be open to communism and accept it consciously, but we do not find that a willingness to ’study, study, study’ occurs spontaneously. In our view, Lenin is also referring to working class leaders who are just being drawn to Marxism.” (TC, 7/31/78, p.3) One might wonder now a person can accept communism consciously while just being drawn to Marxism, but the WC’s view is stated less ambiguously a month later:

The Pacific Collective (PC) justifies its attack by revising Lenin’s definitions .... They limit advanced workers to ’socialists’.” Comrades, we went farther than that. We “limited” intermediate workers to socialists. So did Lenin:

After the numerically small stratum of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average[3] workers. These workers, too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers’ study circles, read socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation, and differ from the preceding stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent leaders of the Social-Democratic movement.[4] (emphasis added, PC) Comrades, Lenin would have considered your non-socialist workers who are “open to communism” to be among the most progressive of the backward workers, and so do we.

Why Retain Lenin’s Definitions?

Unlike the WC, which expresses outrage at our supposed revision of Lenin while presenting their new definitions as orthodoxy, many comrades argue straightforwardly that different conditions in the United States require new definitions. (This, by the way, was the position taken by a WC spokesman at a recent closed “mini-forum” on these issues, after we quoted what Lenin really wrote.) Therefore we should review the reasons why it is better to use Lenin’s definition today.

We took this up briefly in the earlier article, after stating our criterion for choosing one definition over another:

Definitions are conscious choices about what concepts we mean when we use certain words, and the choices should be made to provide the greatest clarity in the theory that guides our practice ...The terms advanced and intermediate are intimately tied to Lenin’s observations about the roles such workers who always do develop eventually play in fusing communism with the workers’ movement. To understand Lenin, we must apply what he says to the same kinds of workers he was writing about. You cannot substitute workers with different characteristics and yet expect them to function in the same way. For one thing, workers who do not have the influence in the class of the advanced, the leaders whom Lenin described, are not going to determine the character of the workers’ movement the way Lenin’s advanced workers did.

In addition, we and the RWC both stated that a tendency to label some intermediate and even backward, non-socialist workers “advanced” had contributed to our over-estimating the consistency of their commitment to the struggle at the plant and their ability to benefit from certain more general Marxist-Leninist study materials.

There are additional reasons for using the terms as Lenin did. First, keeping Lenin’s category of “advanced” before us helps remind us of the level some workers can reach in the development of their intellectual and leadership skills, even if US communists see before us few if any such workers at present. Forgetting their potential paves the way for either the openly rightist or the semi-anarchist or Trotskyite versions of leaving theory, leadership, and perhaps the political struggle in general to the intellectuals, while viewing the proletariat as unable to grasp advanced theory provide leadership ire its own emancipation, or conduct other than trade-unionist struggles.

Similarly, by identify non-socialist workers as backward, as Lenin did, communists can better maintain an objective evaluation of the present pervasiveness of bourgeois ideology in the US working class, and a clearer view of the nature and magnitude of our tasks. Considering such workers backward is not a “putdown” of them. It is simply recognition that any worker who does not even grasp that the source of his or her exploitation is capitalism, and that some kind of socialism would be far better, is indeed, dominated by backward ideas. The fact that so many US workers are stems not from defects in their characters, of course but from the bourgeoisie’s ideological hegemony in this country, and, in many cases, the objective factor of relatively tolerable political and economic conditions.

Finally, using Lenin’s definitions guards against the frequent error of assuming that today’s “advanced”, with proper training and education, are necessarily the same workers who will eventually become the kind of advanced of whom Lenin wrote. That assumption forgets that human beings, too, are subject to the dialectical law that different things develop at different rate; depending on their internal nature. True, some of today’s most progressive workers who are not advanced will become advanced. Others, however, lack the potential for the necessary leadership qualities and breadth of understanding and will always be intermediate workers: hard-working socialists, but not those unusual individuals who play the role of the advanced. And some of today’s “advanced” will become discouraged and slide back, as some people do in any hard and protracted struggle.

By the same token, many workers who do not even think about socialism today have the kind of character that will mean that, when they become involved in sharp class struggles and are reached by socialist agitation and propaganda in the future, they will take “leaps” in their own development and eventually become advanced workers.

As we stated in the strike summation, however, it is still important to find the “relative activists” (Mao) wherever communists are working and build forms of organization that permit working closely with them and integrating them into some kind of leading body for the mass work. This method of work strengthens our ties to the masses and as to those in the group of relative activists, will “permit us to raise the political level of those activists in discussions, and hopefully study, that others are not yet ready for.”

But, as we also said before, those who equate today’s “advanced” with tomorrow’s “’Retrograde Trend’ advanced” often, and quite naturally, call for a degree of concentration on “propaganda to the advanced” that would if carried out, neglect the broad mass agitating and organizing that also will help produce a stratum of real advanced workers. More on this below.

How Many of Which Advanced?

Our assertion that no politically significant number of such workers exists today brought another sharp challenge to our “economism” from the WC. They inform us that

even our limited experience in the workers’ movement tells us that there are thousands of advanced workers, ready to resist, willing to make sacrifices, open to a revolutionary science that points the way forward.”

And they claim that, by denying this, we are adopting “the, basic logic of economism to blame the workers’ movement for our own failure”.

The comrades have an extremely short memory. No sooner do they “expose” our “revising” the definition of advanced worker, than they forget that we and they really do mean different workers when we each use the term. Of course “there are thousands of advanced workers, ready to resist”, etc., if one means the ”relatively advanced”, the best representatives of the working class who exist in significant numbers today, who may well be open to socialist ideas but are not necessarily socialists or functioning leaders of the working class. The WC will never find a shred of evidence that we doubt that there are thousands of such “advanced workers”, because we do not.

(And it is only this difference in definitions, not, as the comrades believe, “a peculiar form of blindness”, that accounts for our and the RWC’s stating that there were no advanced workers at the plant being discussed.)

Moreover, the WC is already on record as believing that there are hardly any US workers who would be called “advanced” under the definition we use. When they used to use the expression much as we do now, they found that their and others’ “undialectical approach led to demoralization within the ranks of our movement, especially when comrades found that workers from the class did not ’live up to’ their expectations.” (TC, 11/17/77, p.8) So now they have redefined the term so that we can all have our “thousands of advanced workers” and do not have to face up to how far we must go in deepening fusion and helping develop a stratum of workers capable of leading a proletarian revolutionary party. (Perhaps US communists should carry the struggle against demoralization even further by redefining revolutionary situation, so we can have one of those today, too.) But the fact remains that the comrades agree that those we call advanced workers are extremely rare, or there would have been no demoralization among comrades expecting to find them today.

(This same obscuring of the effects of using different definitions also emerges when the WC lectures the RWC for trying to use a core “to develop ’intermediate and active lower strata workers, and thus deepening fusion’”, instead of trying to “take Marxism-Leninism to the best representatives of the working class and train... them as real political leaders.” (TC, 7/31/78 p.3). Obviously we did not ignore “the best representatives” of the workers at the plant and try to have a lower-level core. Those whom we worked with were the “best representatives”. But the WC is so upset that we did not label the most progressive and active workers “advanced” that they pretend that we (PC and RWC) have a whole different line than they do on whom to work most closely with. This lets them “expose” our economism.)

In any event, we agree that there are thousands of WC’s “advanced workers”, and they agree that the kind whom we hope to develop are few and far between. So is everything fine between us after all? No, because the WC does make real use of the disagreement they have conjured up between us on whether a significant stratum İf advanced workers now exists in this country.. They attack our cautioning comrades not to concentrate excessively on winning over today’s “advanced”, to the point of harming the broader agitational and organizing work that will also help produce a significant body of real advanced workers from among “the better situated strata” of the entire class.

Why worry about developing such workers if they exist already, right?

Agitation: A Condition for Development of the Advanced

But if one were to worry about it, one would learn that the development of a politically significant number of advanced workers requires, for one thing, .sharp class struggle, which produces working-class leaders. A second crucial condition for the development of many advanced workers is the spread of socialist agitation, which is usually what first brings socialist ideas to those who are (or will become) leaders, as well as to other workers. We cannot go into all the reasons for this here–we will in a pamphlet on party-building–but we note that Lenin observed that in Russia, “widespread agitation naturally, brought to the forefront a growing number of class-conscious workers.”[5] And in insisting (in 1899) on the development of widespread political and economic agitation, he said, “We must utilize this agitation to attract growing numbers of workers into the ranks of the revolutionary Social-Democratic party....”[6]

(These words were written, by the way, six years before the close of the period described in quotations which the WC and others take to mean that propaganda overshadowed agitation, in the period of building up a Russian working-class party by winning over the class vanguard. (TC, 8/28/78, p.3) Lenin was not being inconsistent. The entire passages in Lenin and Stalin show that communist propaganda work was not being contrasted to agitation, but to the political action of the masses in their millions, as a different means of gaining a political education (i.e. through experience). The term propaganda was then being used in its general sense of educational work, of propagating communist ideas.)

We agree, of course, with the WC’s statement that it is a party that will be “the best means by which to unfold widespread agitation” on a nationwide basis and according to a consistent and correct line. It is also certainly obvious that for any workers who are drawn to communists by our agitation to develop into advanced workers, propaganda is indispensable. But two questions remain: 1) whether our attempts to deepen fusion in the pre-party period should be based on the fact that the kind of advanced workers who can and will develop to lead a socialist workers’ movement in this country are largely non-existent today, and 2) whether we therefore should make socialist ideas widely available to workers, through the best agitation that we are capable of in this period, so that the catalyst of those ideas can be added to the crucible of class struggle, enabling more advanced (and intermediate) workers to develop.

Those who answer, “No”, but claim to follow so closely in Lenin’s footsteps should ask themselves why in the mid-1890’s Lenin joined the successful struggle to get the Social-Democrats to turn from preoccupation with propaganda circles to combine such work with widespread agitation, years before the 1903 congress which actually formed the Russian party.

The WC article equates our opposition to “propaganda to the advanced” as the “chief form” of communist work with “the extreme exaggeration of one aspect of: Social-Democratic work”, which Lenin opposed in writing “Retrograde Trend”..,.” (They fail to note that in the sentence before the one they quoted, Lenin himself emphasized that what he was opposing was “a gross exaggeration of this (absolutely essential) aspect of Social-Democratic activity”; namely, quite low-level agitation to the “lower, less developed strata of the proletariat.”[7]

In accusing us of extreme exaggeration of such work, the comrades choose to ignore our repeated statements that call for combining broad mass work with the development of cores or other forms suitable for propaganda work with the most progressive and active workers, to raise their levels in ways that cannot be done in agitation to the broad masses. They also ignore the attempts we made to put this into practice in the core we and RWC formed with some workers. So we shall try again to make ourselves absolutely clear. Agitation and propaganda serve different, though related, functions; both are essential in deepening fusion with the workers’ movement; neither should so overshadow the other as to be the “chief form” of our practical work. Special attention should indeed be given to work with our most progressive and active contacts, including the highest level of propaganda work to which the workers in question are receptive.

The comrades do correctly criticize us and the RWC for rarely rising above local economic issues in the content of our agitation. This had already been put forward as a self-criticism in the RWC summation. (As the prefaces to the documents explain, we contributed to the paper they submitted, and we agreed with its main points except where we stated otherwise.) What the WC adds, however, is the need to use a national newspaper like THE COMMUNIST in our mass work. We basically agree with this addition. However, because of serious line differences with the parties and organizations that publish national newspapers, there is no one paper that we could use regularly and uncritically. Just the same, we must surely organize ourselves to go over the communist press for articles that we can either recommend to our close contacts, or reprint or adapt for agitation.

To be continued in next issue


[1] When the WC argues that not all advanced workers “accept socialism consciously”, they take this sentence to refer to a lesser category of advanced workers, who must study before they grasp socialism. (TC, 11/17/78, p.8) But it is clear that Lenin was describing an aspect of the development of members of the single stratum of advanced workers which the entire passage discusses, not calling those in the process of becoming advanced workers a new stratum of the advanced.

[2] “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy”, Lenin’s COLLECTED WORKS, Vol.4, pgs. 80-81.

[3] The US communist movement uniformly, substitutes intermediate for the term average that appears in the translation of ”Retrograde Trend”. This is entirely correct; there is abundant evidence in Lenin’s writings that the majority of workers during the time he was writing were lower stratum or backward. Thus the middle strata as described here was certainly not “average” in the sense in which we use the term in English.

[4] “A Retrograde Trend” p.281

[5] “A Retrograde Trend” p.279

[6] “Apropos of the Profession de Foi”, Lenin’s COLLECTED WORKS, Vol., 4, p.294

[7] “A Retrograde Trend” pgs.279-80.