Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

The Chief Means of Revolutionary Training

First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 12, May 8, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Lack of training and experience in revolutionary work are common to us all. For example, a circle places its comrades in heavy industry, but work proceeds aimlessly and without result because they have no grasp of the role of factory nuclei or little grasp of the fundamental principles of trade union work. One comrade is fired because she wears her politics on her sleeve, another is so secure he hides his politics from his fellow workers. Neither is able to establish political ties with the vanguard in the workplace. Still another is outdone by a union bureaucrat because he lacks a firm grasp of the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism or has not thought out how they apply to the day to day struggle. Mistakes are repeated because work is not summed up or mistakes made by one collective in one place are needlessly made by others because there is no exchange of common experience. Inner party publicity – the exchange of information and reports – is weak, loose or non-existent, both within and among Marxist-Leninist organizations. Units function autonomously according to their own pace, making common development of theoretical, political and practical work impossible or haphazard at best. There is neither decentralized responsibility nor centralized leadership and authority. Democratic struggles are ignored because comrades scorn anything but “genuine” reforms. Working without a sense of direction, one comrade is lost to the movement because there is no training to move her forward. Another leaves “burnt out”, exhausted by activity without result. An organization is penetrated by agents or degenerates because it lacks training. Documents, to give only one example, are needlessly connected to an organization because there has been inadequate training in the simple techniques of security.

All of this is a one-sided account, to be sure, but every comrade could give many more examples to show how lack of training in revolutionary activity plagues our work.


None of this is unique to our movement. It takes years to build a party skilled enough and experienced enough to lead a big and powerful multinational working class in the struggle for state power. Lenin pointed out that the first efforts of Russian Marxists to connect the spontaneous struggle of the working class to the revolutionary movement against the autocracy were undermined by inadequate training:

The failure of the enterprise merely showed that the Social Democrats of that period were unable to meet the immediate requirements of the time owing to their lack of experience and practical training. (WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, Peking Edition, p. 39.)

Opportunists at that time, just as opportunists today, attempted to justify the situation. Instead of frankly admitting that the leaders of the movement lacked sufficient training to carry out work in a revolutionary way, they claimed that the material conditions did not exist for revolutionary work. For Lenin, on the other hand, the problem was to identify shortcomings and identify the means to overcome them. While he emphasized that lack of practical experience in revolutionary work was normal – a “natural phenomenon” – it was not normal for revolutionaries to bow to the situation. The opposite was the case – they were obligated to overcome it:

The lack of training of the majority of the revolutionaries, being quite a natural phenomenon, could not have aroused any particular fears. Since the tasks were correctly defined, since the energy existed for repeated attempts to fulfill these tasks, temporary failures were not such a great misfortune. Revolutionary experience and organizational skill are things that can be acquired provided the desire is there to acquire them, provided shortcomings are recognized – which in revolutionary activity is more than halfway towards removing them! (WITBD?, p. 40)

But while Lenin would not blame revolutionaries for their lack of experience, he had nothing but scorn for those who justified their lack of training or neglected to take the steps necessary to overcome it:

;But what was not a great misfortune became a real misfortune . . . when people – and even Social Democratic organs – appeared who were prepared to regard shortcomings as virtues, who even tried to invent a theoretical basis for slavish cringing before spontaneity. (WITBD?, p. 40)

The task Lenin placed before the young Russian Marxist movement therefore was to boldly identify shortcomings and to take up the training necessary to overcome them.


In this respect the situation which existed in Russia in 1902 resembles the situation in our own movement today. Then, as now, the movement was plagued by scattered and fragmented circles of revolutionaries who had not yet succeeded in forging a common unified party. In WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, Lenin showed the connection between the amateurish tendencies of inexperienced revolutionaries and the fragmented character of the movement. Scattered and disunited circles inevitably mean a narrow scope of theoretical, political and organizational work. While this is to a certain extent inevitable, what is not inevitable is, as a consequence, to reduce the far reaching goals of communism to the narrow limits of circle struggle. This tendency can be overcome by training in revolutionary work. But inexperience becomes amateurishness when there is a failure to understand that a vanguard organization of revolutionaries cannot be built up on the basis of narrow activity. Amateurishness in turn feeds a longstanding opportunist tendency in the communist movement to adopt a narrow conception of Marxist theory, of the role of the communist movement, and of its political tasks. This tendency, called economism, justifies the narrowness of circle fragmentation. It sets no goals beyond the constricted scope of circle activity and opposes any effort to overcome amateurishness by revolutionary training.

Preparing the conditions for party unity means overcoming the conditions of circle fragmentation and amateurishness. This requires an ideological defeat over the economist tendency to narrow the scope of our tasks and also practical revolutionary training in the broad political and organizational tasks the communist movement imposes on us.

Mao reminds us that the essence of dialectics is the transformation of opposites. Since the revisionist betrayal of the U.S. Communist Party, the main task of US revolutionaries has been to forge the unity of the best representatives of the working class from the disunity of the communist and working class movement. If we have accomplished relatively little, it is because the tasks of revolutionary training have not been boldly and consciously taken up.

Our disunity has a material foundation in the fragmented conditions of struggle under capitalism. Thus unity cannot be won by desire alone. Genuine desire is an indispensable prerequisite for party unity, but there must also be a concrete plan and subjective effort by revolutionaries to translate ideas and policies into reality. In other words, the transformation of disunity into unity depends on the conscious dynamic role of the vanguard. What Lenin makes clear is that the conscious role required for party building is a process of revolutionary training. In order to transform the conditions of amateurishness and disunity connected to circle narrowness, revolutionaries themselves must be transformed. Revolutionary training is therefore a fundamental condition for party unity.


How then are we to acquire revolutionary training?

It is impossible to raise the question of party building conscientiously without raising this question.

Do we acquire revolutionary training as the old Revolutionary Union (now the RCP) proposed – by throwing ourselves into the mass movement in order to obtain practical experience?

The trouble with this view is that “the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.” (WITBD?, p. 37). The same is true of the mass movement generally – left to its own efforts, the mass movement can give rise only to a reformist consciousness.

Practice in the mass movement, therefore, without consciousness, plan or policy, will not contribute to the tasks of revolutionary training. Collectives which have carried on the same plant work year after year without significant advance can testify to the fact. Lenin writes:

For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely the answer with which, in the majority of cases, the practical workers, especially those inclined toward Economism, mostly content themselves, namely: “To go among the workers”. (WITBD?, p. 98).

If going among the workers is not enough, then what must be done to overcome the lack of training which prevents revolutionaries from consolidating their unity and taking political knowledge to the working class? Lenin’s answer is unambiguous:

the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals, and such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically appraising all the everyday aspects of our political life, of all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of various classes and on various grounds. (WITBD?, p. 199)

Training leaders is the essential task of party building. It is the task of winning the vanguard to communism. The systematic appraisal Lenin refers here is a “comprehensive political exposure”. “The masses cannot be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity,” he writes, “in any other way, except by means of such exposures.” (WITBD?, p. 85). He continues:

Working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected. Moreover, to respond from a Social Democratic, and not from any other point of view. The consciousness of the masses of workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. (WITBD?, p. 86).

In other words, in order to train ourselves as leaders and in order to take political knowledge to the working class, what we need are political exposures. According to Lenin, they are the chief means of revolutionary training.


How is it that an exposure can function as a tool of revolutionary training?

First, an exposure becomes an instrument of revolutionary training if it is political. This does not mean that it trains if it deals with bourgeois politics anymore than “lending the economic struggle a political character” is politics for us. An exposure is political from a revolutionary point of view if it responds to events of every kind from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint. This is a matter of class stand. Only a Marxist-Leninist point of view makes it possible to take political knowledge to the working class. An exposure is political when it evaluates everything in terms of its contribution to the struggle of the working class for political power.

The first criteria of a political exposure, therefore, is that it is presented from a Marxist-Leninist point of view.

In order to respond from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, an exposure must apply the scientific method of Marxism-Leninism. This is the second point. An exposure will be an instrument of revolutionary training only if it applies a materialist analysis and a materialist estimate to what is going on around us.

The second criteria of a political exposure, therefore, is that it apply the method of dialectical and historical materialism to the analysis of events.

Taken as a whole, exposures will provide revolutionary training only if they are comprehensive. That is, they must apply a materialist estimate to all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. Focusing only on what directly concerns the working class, for example, can never provide training in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the bourgeoisie or in mobilizing all the forces of popular resistance required for a determined assault on the bourgeois state.

The third criteria of a political exposure, therefore, is that it contribute to a comprehensive, materialist estimate of all aspects of social life and activity.

In order to become an instrument of revolutionary training, an exposure must also be topical. In other words, exposures must deal with the current practical problems of the US revolution and not take up Marxism-Leninism or the life and activity of the population in the abstract and without revolutionary purpose. Lenin says that a worker must have a “clear picture” of the economic nature and the social and political features of each class and stratum in modern society if he is to become a class conscious revolutionary. But he adds,

this clear picture does not come from books. It can be obtained only from living examples and from exposures following hot upon the heels of what is going on around us at a given moment. (WITBD?, p. 87).

The fourth criteria of a political exposure, therefore, is that it is topical.

In order for political exposures to provide training in revolutionary activity, they must be based on the unity of theory and practice. On the one hand they must sum up practice and submit it to the test of Marxist-Leninist theory. On the other hand they must guide practice and be tested in practice. In other words, political exposures must provide the basis for nationwide political agitation and must put forward a line or policy around which agitation can unfold.

The fifth criteria of a political exposure, therefore, is that it lay a foundation for political agitation and promote the unity of theory and practice.


According to Lenin, “these comprehensive political exposures are an essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity.” (WITBD?, p. 87). For this reason, a newspaper devoted to political exposures is the best means to train revolutionaries and the popular masses. Such a newspaper gathers exposures in order to subject the whole of political and social life to the test of Marxism-Leninism. Unlike bourgeois newspapers, it does not pretend to be a “photographer of facts”. Like Lenin’s ISKRA newspaper, it uses political exposures to provide a timely, comprehensive and materialist analysis of events in order to guide political action.

Obviously, no single exposure, however complete, can provide a comprehensive picture of the activity of all classes and groups of the population. In order to systematically appraise all the everyday aspects of political life and all attempts at protest and struggle, we need a newspaper capable of gathering many different exposures and which appears regularly and frequently. In terms of guiding the tasks of revolutionary training, no other similar kind of activity can be as effective. Speeches, forums, leaflets, bulletins, books, schools, films or even a theoretical journal are all essential complements of a revolutionary newspaper. But overall, none can provide the same stability and consistency in guiding the day to day tasks of revolutionary training.

A newspaper devoted to comprehensive political exposures is also the best vehicle to ensure that revolutionary training be based on the unity of theory and practice. While not every exposure will directly guide revolutionary activity, each exposure must lay a foundation for political action of the popular masses and, overall, a newspaper devoted to political exposures must put forward a line or policy to guide practical action on every burning question affecting either the immediate or long range struggle of the working class.

We pointed out above the connection between the perpetuation of disunity in our movement and our lack of training. Like Lenin’s ISKRA, a single, common US political newspaper devoted to comprehensive political exposures is still the best means for us to use to overcome our lack of training in revolutionary work. Because of the connection between political exposures and revolutionary training, the fundamental lesson of WHAT IS TO BE DONE? can be applied to our revolutionary struggle today:

“The whole point,” Lenin wrote, ”is that there is no other way of training strong political organizations except through the medium of [a nationwide] newspaper.” (WITBD?, p. 198).