Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

Revolutionary Training and the Iskra Tactic

First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 13, June 5, 1978.
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.

Earlier articles in this series have brought out the importance of revolutionary training to the struggle for party unity and argued that the chief means of revolutionary training must be through the organization of comprehensive political exposure.

Political exposure, Lenin said in WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, is the fundamental condition for raising the consciousness and activity of revolutionary leaders as well as of the working and oppressed masses.

Political exposures are a means to accomplish this result because they require the application in practice of a materialist analysis and materialist estimate of events. They are a means to train revolutionaries in the Marxist-Leninist method of seeking truth from facts as a guide to action. As such they are a means to overcome a partial or onesided approach to problems. They are a means to overcome the tendency to bow to conditions of fragmentation or inexperience. In short, they are a means to overcome the tendency to narrowness in the conception of Marxist-Leninist theory and narrowness in the conception of our tasks, both of which hold back the struggle for party unity.


Some comrades, however, argue that these lessons from Bolshevik history did not apply to the development of other communist parties, such as the Chinese party; therefore they reproach us with dogmatism for attempting to apply them to our own movement. The Chinese party, they argue, did not use a newspaper devoted to comprehensive political exposure as the main vehicle for revolutionary training, and no such newspaper played a decisive role in its struggle for party unity.

Given the points we have made, if the Chinese party did not make use of the basic features of Lenin’s plan, why is this so?


The answer must be found in the conditions of the Chinese revolution. Mao writes that the seizure of power by armed force is the central task of every revolution–this is a Marxist-Leninist principle universally applicable. But the application of this principle must vary according to concrete differences in the conditions of revolutionary struggle in different countries.

Thus in PROBLEMS OF WAR AND STRATEGY Mao points out that China was not an advanced capitalist, but a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country. He continues,

...this shows the difference between China and the capitalist countries. In China war is the main form of struggle and the army is the main form of organization. Other forms such as mass organization and mass struggle are also extremely important and indeed indispensable and in no circumstances to be overlooked, but their purpose is to serve the war. Before the outbreak of a war all organization and struggle are in preparation for the war, as in the period from the May 4 movement of 1919 to the May 30th movement of 1925. After war breaks out, all organization and struggle are coordinated with the war either directly or indirectly...

As Stalin said, “In China the armed revolution is fighting the armed counterrevolution”. This specific feature of the Chinese revolution determined its tactical plan. The main task of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao wrote;

has been to unite with as many allies as possible and, according to the circumstances, to organize armed struggles for national and social liberation against armed counter-revolution, whether internal or external. Without armed struggle...it would be impossible to accomplish any revolutionary task.

Every member, he adds,

should be prepared to take up arms and go to the front at any moment.

Further, all other work must be linked to and subordinated to armed struggle

Party organizational work and mass work are co-ordinated with the war, and should and must exclusively serve the needs of the front. In a word, the whole Party must pay great attention to war, study military matters and prepare itself for fighting.

From this it is clear that for the Chinese Communist Party, what Lenin referred to as the application in practice of a materialist analysis and materialist estimate of events took place in the framework of military organization and armed struggle. Revolutionary training took place in the context of military struggle.

It follows that a newspaper devoted to comprehensive political exposure was not best suited to guide revolutionary training. For example, it is not secret, does not depend on military discipline, and so forth. In fact, it would need to ignore the most essential problems requiring solution by army leaders in the field.

It is for these reasons that Mao does not bring forward the role of a newspaper in taking up, for example, a party rectification campaign to overcome shortcomings in party work such as that unfolded in REFORM OUR STUDY.


However this fact does not undermine, but reinforces the significance of the tactical line of WHAT IS TO BE DONE? to our own revolution.

Comparing the Chinese revolution with revolution in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America, Mao writes that up until the period of insurrection and civil war,

...it is the task of the party of the proletariat in the capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries, the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. Thus the form of organization is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military).

In these conditions civil war cannot be undertaken “until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat.”

Mao concludes:

All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries, and it has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia.

Therefore from a tactical point of view the forms of organization and forms of struggle are non-military until the conditions for the seizure of power are ripe. In both the US and Bolshevik Russia the task of the proletarian party is to master all forms of mass organization and to guide mass struggle.

By contrast, under the conditions of the Chinese revolution, the main form of struggle was military and the main form of organization the army.

Revolutionary training, on which the question of party unity depends, must take into account these differences.

In advanced capitalist countries, Marxist-Leninist cadres must be trained to educate the working and oppressed masses in revolutionary consciousness and activity, to take leadership in economic and political strikes and demonstrations, to penetrate the trade unions and bring them under party control, to utilize parliament as a platform, and so forth. They must learn to know when the bourgeoisie is helpless, when the proletariat is determined to fight and when the allies of the proletariat are ready to stand by its side.

For these tasks, the role of comprehensive political exposure and a newspaper like Lenin’s ISKRA come to the fore. Whereas a newspaper is not best suited for revolutionary training under conditions of military struggle, it is most suited to guide revolutionary training when the task is to build up mass organizations and wage non-military mass struggle. Characteristics which make it unsuitable in the first instance–for example, that it is open, not secret–are its strengths in the second situation.


The comparison of the tactical line which must guide revolutionary training under conditions of military struggle with the tactical line which must guide revolutionary training under conditions of non-military struggle holds an important lesson for our movement. As we said in our article “A Party Building Retreat”, unless we undertake

the task of giving leadership to the masses and strive to enter and lead spontaneous manifestations of class struggle, we do not win the vanguard to communism in a practical way. We fail to train the vanguard in the most important characteristic of the proletarian party – its capacity for political leadership. (THE COMMUNIST, v. III, no. 11, 6/6/77)

In other words, entering and giving leadership to mass organizations and to the struggles of the masses of working and oppressed people is a task of revolutionary training integrally linked to party building. It is training in the kind of leadership we must provide and at this time comparable to the relationship of the study of military matters to party construction in the Chinese revolution. Where for the Chinese Communist Party, comrades gained training in military struggle, our comrades must gain training now chiefly in the techniques of mass struggle. Where for the Chinese party military orders, reports from the field, etc. were essential vehicles of revolutionary training, for Marxist-Leninists striving to lead mass struggles, the best vehicle to guide revolutionary training is an Iskra type newspaper.


This last point of course is a fundamental lesson of WHAT IS TO BE DONE? “We must train our Social Democratic practical workers to become political leaders,” Lenin wrote and showed that a newspaper devoted to comprehensive political exposure was a necessary tool to guide that training. “Live political work,” he said, “can be begun in our time, when Social Democratic tasks are being degraded, exclusively with live political agitation, which is impossible unless we have an all Russian newspaper, frequently issued and properly distributed.” (WITBD?, Peking ed., p. 200)

Training in mass struggle does not come simply from taking up mass work, and revolutionaries do not bring political knowledge to the working class merely by ’going among the workers’. Instead, there must be broad political agitation which goes hand in hand with the organization of comprehensive political exposure. (“In order to carry on agitation around concrete examples of oppression, these examples must be exposed (just as it was necessary to expose factory abuses in order to carry on economic agitation)” WITBD?, p. 71). The organization of political exposures

would serve to cultivate the ability properly to estimate the general political situation . . . would train all local organizations to respond simultaneously to one and the same political questions. . . (and) would train all revolutionary organizations throughout Russia to maintain the most continuous, and at the same time the most secret, contact with each other, thus creating real Party unity. ... (WITBD?, p. 219)

In general, these matters have been mishandled by our movement. Organizations have certainly sought connection with the mass movement, but they have not understood either the role of revolutionary training, or the central task of party building, or the role of the proletariat as a vanguard fighter for democracy. Thus build the mass movement, not party building, was for a time the central task, and Marxist Leninists did not show the connection between the mass movement overall and the political struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is still a weak point. For example, trade union caucuses were built up in an effort to penetrate the mass movement, but the basis for giving good leadership to trade union work and for preparing the conditions to win and consolidate the advanced, namely, a nuclear style of work, was ignored. Marxist-Leninist newspapers did little to guide the task of revolutionary training through work sum ups, etc.

At the other extreme, some comrades wrote off the mass movement and the democratic struggle altogether under the guise that party building is the central task. The absurdity of this view, in light of the tactical line we have brought forward, is clear – there can be no party building without training the vanguard in communist leadership in the forms of organization and struggle of the mass movement.


The tasks of revolutionary training which are raised by the tactical line of WHAT IS TO BE DONE? make clear the character of newspaper we must have. It must be a newspaper capable of training political leaders for mass struggle, and for that reason Lenin emphasized building an organization devoted to all-sided, all-embracing political agitation.

First, propaganda must have the leading role in our press if we are to apply the method of Marxism-Leninism and make a materialist analysis and materialist estimate of events from a Marxist-Leninist standpoint and no other.

Second, we must pay a great deal of attention to the tasks of guiding the struggles of the working class. Lenin wrote:

The ideal audience for political exposures is the working class, which is first and foremost in need of all-round and live political knowledge, and is most capable of converting this knowledge into active struggle.

Especially at this time we need to pay attention to the struggle to build party organizations on the plant floor (revolutionary cores and nuclei) which lay the basis for giving leadership to the economic and political agitation of the working class.

Sum ups of these struggles must also have a high priority in our work if the party we strive to create is to be “trained and taught correct revolutionary tactics on the basis of its own mistakes”, rather than to avoid training as the Second International by evading and glossing over vexing questions (FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM). These sum ups need to concern all our efforts to give leadership to the day to day struggles of the working class, including the struggle to build caucuses and other forms of rank and file organization, to penetrate the trade unions and to win them to communist leadership, to organize the unorganized, health and safety, etc.

Sum ups of this sort, however, do not fall from the sky. They can only happen if comrades engaged in work take up the task of providing exposures that “generalize all the diverse signs of ferment and active struggle” (WITBD?, p. 200).

A work sum up reflects the basic Marxist-Leninist principle of learning from practice. Just as with revolutionary training under conditions of military struggle, in mass struggle we must “learn warfare through warfare.” Training in mass struggles means grasping that an exposure is not an appraisal or estimate of events in the abstract, but a materialist analysis and materialist estimate “to apply in practice.” Mao writes:

Neither a beginner nor a person who fights only on paper can become a really able high-ranking commander; only one who has learned through actual fighting in war can do so. (THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO BE GOOD AT LEARNING)

This lesson also applies to the question of training political leaders in the course of mass struggle. In the trade unions, on the shop floor, in the mass organizations, we need many “able high-ranking commanders” who learn through actual fighting.

Said another way, we do not just take up mass work any more than Chinese revolutionaries could have gained training or survived by going aimlessly into battle. We must take up mass work consciously in a party style, with the objective of generalizing our experience and training Marxist-Leninists as practical and political leaders of the struggles of the working and oppressed masses.

We must add that a newspaper which takes up the task of guiding revolutionary training does not focus its attention exclusively on the working class. The proletariat is a vanguard fighter for democracy and must be in the advance of everyone in taking up the general problems of democracy for solution. He is not a Communist, Lenin argues,

who forgets that the Communists support every revolutionary movement, that we are obliged for that reason to expound and emphasize general democratic tasks before the whole people, without for a moment concealing our socialist convictions. (WITBD?, p. 102)

In sum, an Iskra type newspaper must bring together every fact and feature which can contribute to the revolutionary struggle against superpower hegemonism internationally and against US monopoly capitalism in the US, shedding the light of communist policy on every facet of struggle in order to train revolutionary political leaders in the course of struggle. Our newspaper will guide revolutionary training by training every comrade, as Lenin said,

. . .to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it takes place, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; he must be able to generalize all these manifestations to produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; he must be able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to explain his Socialistic convictions and his democratic demands to all, in order to explain to all and everyone the world-historic significance of the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation. (WITBD?, p. 99).