First Published: Line of March Vol. 1, No. 3, October-November 1980.
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.
Line of March Note: Max Elbaum and Melinda Paras are both members of Line of March Editorial Board.
As the crisis of U.S. imperialism matures, the need for Marxist-Leninist leadership of the U.S. working class becomes evermore urgent. The emergence of such leadership presently depends on the growth and development of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend in the U.S. communist movement. Having broken with the opportunist international trends headquartered in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist Party of China (CPC), this trend represents the only political force in the U.S. basing itself firmly on the principles of proletarian internationalism and looking to the science of Marxism-Leninism as its guiding ideology. This is the basis for the trend to accept, with optimism, the profound responsibilities placed on it by history.
The very emergence of a self-consciously anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend marks an important maturation for the U.S communist movement. The key to this maturation was the decisive break in the mid-1970s with the general line of the CPC. It was no simple matter to break with the prestigious party which had been the initial headquarters of the anti-revisionist movement and which continued the legacy of many heroic achievements in the battle against imperialism. Yet without this break and the subsequent re-examination of our movement’s history, no communist party could be built in the U.S., for a genuine party cannot be forged under the wing of an international center that is consolidated around an opportunist general line.
Yet if in making its initial demarcations with modern revisionism and “left” opportunism the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend has demonstrated important ideological and political strengths, the trend’s weaknesses relative to the task of actually providing revolutionary leadership to the U.S. working class are only too apparent. The trend is not yet able to offer much more than a relatively primitive explanation of the nature of the present crisis of imperialism nor can it scientifically forecast the path of its development. It is not yet united on an overall revolutionary strategy that can project the alignment of class and political forces in a common assault on capital and consequently guide communist work in all strata of the population. A Marxist-Leninist analysis of crucial particular questions of the U.S. revolution – such as the nature of the oppression of Black people or women – is still lacking. We lack the recognized leadership and coherent organizational form to co-ordinate work on a nationwide scale. And the trend lacks the institutions and tools needed to effectively educate the working class in the science of Marxism-Leninism – workers’ schools, diverse propaganda materials, a regular national press.
Of course, a degree of progress has been made in each of these areas. In its four or five short years of existence, the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend has taken, in relatively spontaneous fashion, some hesitant steps to overcome these serious shortcomings. While our theoretical level remains low, the trend has begun to take up certain key questions of the international and U.S. communist movements and to make progress in solving them. In fact, this trend is demonstrating the potential to become the center for new, pioneering theoretical work, a crucial task which has been abandoned by the opportunist forces. In the political field, forces within the trend have begun to intervene in the mass working class movement with a freshness of approach and healthy political policy sharply distinguishing us from the revisionists and the various stripes of “left” opportunists. Organizationally, some limited steps toward national organization and co-ordination and the development of national propaganda have been taken, with results that have broadened the political horizons of activists within the trend and those on its immediate periphery.
But this progress, while important, presently proceeds far too slowly and with too little depth to achieve the needed result of forging a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard from our trend. This is no time for complacency. The pace of the trend’s development must be accelerated, and the quality of its work improved, and the number of forces drawn into its activities expanded.
The crucial element to achieving these breakthroughs is the development of a much more conscious approach to our task of constructing a Leninist vanguard. Without a conscious view of the nature and scope of our task and the method of accomplishing it, the pressures of the spontaneous movement will overwhelm our far too scant resources and the trend will be relegated to historical irrelevance. In typical empiricist fashion, we will rush after every new development in the mass movement, trying to intervene, armed with dedication and good intentions, but without a revolutionary line and party. Such a course will lead to work that constitutes a heroic moral gesture but has no real impact on the class struggle.
A conscious approach to the tasks before our trend must draw on the lessons learned from similar periods when the communist movement was in crisis. It must locate precisely the decisive feature around which our efforts to construct a party must be organized, as well as target accurately the other key features of communist work in the present period. A conscious approach must map out the most effective means of mobilizing the entire trend to take up its party building tasks. In essence, a conscious approach to resolving the crisis in the U.S. communist movement must be expressed and crystallized in a scientific party building line.
In our view, the centerpiece of such a line must be the concept of a wide-ranging rectification movement which will embrace the entire emerging Marxist-Leninist trend. The central focus of this movement must be to develop a leading general line for the U.S. revolution, or more precisely, the rectification of the general line of the U.S. communist movement. In the process of developing this line, the associated political, ideological, and organizational tasks crucial to transforming the trend into a party must be taken up. Given the complexity of the task as well as the need to build a party on the firmest and broadest ideological and political foundations, the entire trend must be actively involved in the process that will transform it into a revolutionary party.
It is the purpose of this article to elaborate some of the key features of consciously building this type of rectification movement within the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend.
While certain features of the present crisis of the U.S. communist movement are unique, the present period also shares many similarities with other moments in communist history. Communist parties have only too often lost their bearings and been unable for a certain period to provide effective revolutionary leadership. In such periods, Marxist-Leninists have almost invariably turned to a serious re-examination of either the basic line and policy of the party or particular lines and policies, to determine the cause of the disorientation and find the solution. While not all such efforts were self-consciously termed “rectification movements,” and not all could be conducted within the organizational framework of an existing party, the essential features of many such periods are similar. The broad membership of the party is mobilized in an active process of struggle and discussion to analyze errors, discuss their roots, and assess their impact. The basic goal of these mobilizations is to study and critique an existing or historically influential line or policy and elaborate a new and correct line and policy.
While this process has certain features in common with periods when communists are formulating initial lines concerning new phenomena, there are significant and important differences between the two situations. When an erroneous line concerning some area of work – or the party’s work in general – has been influential for some time, it has necessarily had a strong negative impact on the party’s cadre. The mere issuing of clarifications or adoption of new policies in this context fails to assess and root out the impact of the previous erroneous line, consequently making the danger of backsliding to the old incorrect policy a major problem. Unless all the cadre under the old line’s influence are involved in a serious process of criticism of the old line and elaboration of the new line, they will not be able to understand their errors, internalize the change, grasp the reason for it. and master the new policy. It is to accomplish this that the complexity and depth of a rectification movement is required.
While not all rectification movements were equally successful, of course, these experiences do provide crucial insights into the method of resolving the crisis of the U.S. communist movement today.
One rectification campaign of particular significance to U.S. Marxist-Leninists today is the self-criticism conducted by the CPUSA, repudiating “Browderism” in spring 1945. The significance of this campaign for us today lies both in its target – a right opportunist line similar in some respects to modern revisionism – and the incomplete and superficial character of the campaign’s achievements.
The background to this rectification campaign stretches back into the late 1930s. While it followed the basically correct line mapped out by the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in 1935 and particularized the line in 1936, the CPUSA nevertheless fell into a consistent pattern of right errors. These quantitative errors became qualitative in the early forties when party General Secretary Earl Browder developed a full-blown line which gutted the revolutionary heart from Marxism-Leninism. Browder argued that U.S. imperialism had a progressive role to play in the post-World War II period, that it would not only accept but advocate peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, and that U.S. capitalism could overcome its tendency toward economic crisis and stabilize itself economically. Flowing from these views, Browder argued that the working class did not need an independent political party, but a sort of pressure group that could push the decisive sections of the U.S. ruling class to the left, insuring stable capitalism and peaceful coexistence.
Browder’s line won dominance and resulted in transformation of the CPUSA into a “Communist Political Association” (CPA) in May 1944.
In April 1945 an article in a French communist journal by Jacques Duclos, a prominent leader of the French communist party, launched a full-blown criticism of the overall policies of the CPA. This article sparked a major discussion and struggle within the CPA and in particular within its leading bodies.
In national leadership meetings and county and state conventions from May through July 1945. the Duclos article and the overall line of the CPUSA and CPA were discussed. Browder was isolated and condemned as a revisionist. At the end of July 1945, an emergency national convention was called, Browder’s line was formally repudiated, and the party reconstituted. While Browder himself was removed from leadership (and later expelled from the party), the remainder of the national leadership was virtually the same following this convention as in the years before it.
Although this process officially reconstituted the party and formally reaffirmed the basic revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism, the rectification was extremely shallow.
To thoroughly root out the many aspects of “Browderism” and its widespread impact would have required extensive study, struggle, and debate. It would almost certainly have been accompanied by major changes in leading bodies and probably even a general purge in the party’s ranks. Special commissions might have been expected to take up exploration of complex theoretical problems that might not be soluble in the immediate period of rectification and carry on their work into the following period. And while it is possible such an ambitious program could be completed in a few short months, this would not be true without immense effort and systematic attempts to involve the mass of party membership in discussion at every level of the party ranks.
Unfortunately, such thoroughness was not at all a feature of the repudiation of Browder. A relatively simple and fast process of change took place. The American tradition of pragmatism weighed like a nightmare on the party leaders as they raced to change quickly, produce immediate results, and get on with the important business at hand. Inevitably, this trade-off of long range effectiveness for short term simplicity did the U.S. communist movement no good turn. The party was disarmed in the struggle against reformist tendencies that continued to arise within its ranks over the next ten years. The weakness of the 1945 rectification had a definite impact on the party’s ability to resist the consolidation of modern revisionism as its guiding policy in 1956. The negative lessons of the superficial rectification movement of 1945 should check any impulse to seek a simple way to reorient the communist movement. They should remind us of the complex contradictions we presently face and the broad and thorough movement that will be required to resolve them.
A more positive example of rectification can be found in a study of the more recent experience of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The Philippine rectification movement unfolded in the late 1960s was both a self-consciously guided process of rectification and an instance of rectification resulting in re-establishment of a party organization rather than alteration of an existing apparatus.
The Communist Party of the Philippines had suffered from a long history of right opportunist errors which were consolidated as modern revisionism enveloped the world communist movement in the late 1950s. The 1960s in the Philippines, as in many other parts of the world, brought a radical upsurge in mass activity, initially based among students and youth. The “old” (revisionist) party had little or no relation to this upsurge, as it was hopelessly mired in reformism and was barely functional organizationally.
In this context, a number of developing Marxist-Leninists attempted to conduct rectification efforts within the “old” party. When this proved impossible because of the degree of consolidation of the leadership around the revisionist line, these comrades broke from the “old” party and prepared for party building work to be taken up outside of it. Under the leadership of Jose Maria Sison, these Philippine communists grasped that coming to grips with the history of the communist movement in the Philippines was essential to party building even if the vanguard-to-be was not going to evolve from the organization formally continuing that history. They grasped that the true heritage of the revolutionary tradition and experience of Philippine communists lay with the anti-revisionist forces and not with the revisionist organizational shell. Consequently, they accurately characterized their party building process as re-establishment of the Philippine party based on a process of line rectification.
Flowing from this view, a broad movement to critique the leading line of the revisionist party and study its history was launched in new theoretical publications, forums, and discussion groups. This was combined with an intensified study of Philippine history in general and of the class analysis and strategy necessary to lead the struggle for state power. The study and debate of these questions swept the ranks of the revolutionary activists coming forward from the mass movement in the mid-60s. Based on the gains of this widespread rectification movement, the CPP was re-established in 1968. While composed primarily of young activists radicalized by the growing anti-imperialist movement, the re-established party also drew in some veteran cadre from the revisionist shell. These cadre in particular played a useful role in study of party history and also in formation of the New People’s Army a year later.
The party’s actual re-establishment was based around several key documents which had been synthesized in the course of the rectification movement and debated widely in the period immediately prior to forging the party anew. The most important of these documents were Philippine Society and Revolution, which includes a review of Philippine history, an analysis of the basic problems facing the Filipino people and a program for revolutionary work; and Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party which analyzes in depth the ideological, political, organizational, and military errors of the old party, and their historical roots.
A major element contributing to the CPP’s rectification movement was the influence of the Communist Party of China. Chinese party influence was important in formulating the theoretical framework of the break with revisionism (using especially the material from the 1963 polemics on the general line of the world communist movement). Mao’s work on “new democracy” also aided in clarification of the basic strategy and tactics of people’s war in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country.
Despite the degeneration of the CPC line and practice, the CPP still considers itself guided by the world view of “Mao Zedong Thought.” However, its strength rests in the fact that its rectification movement was rooted in the actual study and critique of the history of the Philippine communist movement rather than a simplified repetition of the Chinese criticisms of modern revisionism. As a result, the CPP bears little resemblance to the minute Maoist sects in many of the advanced capitalist countries. By correctly grasping the main questions of the Philippine revolution and summing up the errors and corruption of modern revisionism in the Philippines, the CPP was able to develop a general line and build an organization which today plays the vanguard role in the Philippine revolution, completely overshadowing the old revisionist party. One indication of the actual vanguard orientation of the CPP is its correct assessment that U.S. imperialism stands as the main enemy of the Filipino people, despite whatever inconsistency that may have with the CPC’s Theory of the Three Worlds, an inconsistency which must at some point be resolved by repudiation of one or another line.
A number of important lessons can be drawn from this brief review of these two rectification efforts.
First, we can note the intertwining of the rectification campaign in each particular country with developments in the international movement. In the U.S. in 1945, the influence of the international movement expressed through the French party played a key role in rectifying an opportunist line, while in the Philippine experience the anti-revisionist theses of the CPC played a key role in repudiating revisionist errors. Today, the U.S. communist movement can look to no comparable international center to offer us guidance in recapturing a revolutionary orientation. Still, our trend cannot ignore the international movement, and this highlights our responsibility to view our rectification as an integral part of the worldwide process that must occur to repudiate modern revisionism and “left” opportunism and regain a genuine Marxist-Leninist viewpoint in the world communist movement.
Second, we can grasp the applicability of the rectification concept to circumstances where a new party apparatus must be built, as well as to situations where the rectification process alters the line of an existing organizational structure. In both of the experiences examined above, the basic political and ideological tasks were the same: study and critique an opportunist line, reassert a Marxist-Leninist orientation, and unite the communists around a revolutionary general line.
Third, we can note the crucial importance of the involvement of the bulk of Marxist-Leninist forces in the rectification effort and the actual creation of a movement among communists to conduct rectification work. Where a lively and all-sided movement of mass involvement was built, as in the Philippines, the party was reforged on firm theoretical, ideological and political foundations; where the rectification was a more formal and administrative affair conducted only in the inner circles of party leadership, as in the U.S. party in 1945, the results achieved were shallow and shortlived. The importance of a rectification movement involving the mass of Marxist-Leninists rests in the fact that only such a movement brings the widest body of experience to bear on reconstruction of the general line, and actively forges the cadre as communists in the course of the movement itself. In short, it provides for effective operation of the crucial dialectic between cadre and line, where the developing line trains the cadre and the cadre in turn help shape the developing line.
Internalizing these lessons can greatly assist U.S. Marxist-Leninists as we take up the urgent tasks of the present period. For the Marxist-Leninist trend in the U.S. today is faced with a complex and difficult rectification task and suffers the additional disadvantage of a major break in continuity from direct experience in a genuine communist party. In this context, every lesson we can glean from the experiences of communists in other countries and at other times can be of immense value.
Of course, in incorporating these experiences into our thinking, we must be careful to base our perspective on a concrete analysis of the specific conditions we face. These conditions begin with the fact that our rectification work addresses two deviations with widespread influence: modern revisionism and “left” opportunism. They include the fact that we must take up this task outside of any existing party organization, for the existing formations (specifically, the CPUSA and the “left” opportunist sects) are so hopelessly mired in opportunism that work within them is presently impossible. This presents Marxist-Leninists with a complex organizational context within which to conduct our work. Further, as we take up these tasks we must frankly recognize the primitive state of our trend, its still low theoretical level, limited practical experience, weak class and racial composition, and strong anti-intellectual, “workerist,” and pragmatist tendencies. It is within these objective circumstances that we must map out our rectification tasks and build our rectification movement.
The key first step in consciously constructing this movement is to determine its central focus. In our view, that focus can only be on the rectification of the general political line of the U.S. communist movement. As our trend’s definition-by-negation implies, the trend remains identified more by its rejection of opportunist lines than by asserting an alternative Marxist-Leninist general line. Until such a line is developed, the break with opportunism cannot be fully consolidated and Marxist-Leninists cannot effectively take up their historic responsibilities to lead the working class struggle. Without a general line guiding the struggle for state power, all the work of communists suffers from an inherent limitation of empiricism, and they cannot effectively “divert the workers’ movement from its spontaneous striving to come under the wing of bourgeois ideology.” Consequently, the key focus of our rectification efforts must be on the question of the general political line of our movement.
Centered around rectification of the general line, the various other tasks and components of the rectification movement can be developed. In this article, after we examine in greater depth the concept of general line, we will discuss other important features of the rectification movement: the ideological transformation of the communists, our intervention in the class struggle in the pre-party period, cadre training, and the role of a leading center in building the rectification movement. Based on these considerations, we will then present a beginning program for actually conducting rectification work in the immediate period before us.
Focusing the rectification movement around the general political line of the communists is crucial in linking the principally internal work of the rectification period to the key tasks of the party after its re-establishment. Once the party is reconstituted, its main work will be external, in its attempts to intervene in the spontaneous mass movement and give that movement guidance and direction. This work will be guided and coordinated by the party’s general line. Consequently, the focus on general line links the emphasis on struggle among communists in this period to the main work of the party in its initial period of existence. It is the qualitative breakthrough of developing a leading general line that is the indispensable precondition for the completion of the rectification stage of our movement and the actual launching of the party.
One negative consequence of the profound discontinuity in the U.S. communist movement is that we are at present barely able to imagine what a general line actually is. let alone feel confident we can actually forge one through work and struggle. But without a firm concept of the general line, our movement inevitably lowers its vision of the kind of theoretical and political perspective actually required to lend a true vanguard character to an organization of would-be communists. One consequence of this has been to obscure the key distinction between the party and the pre-party periods, viewing the line of a party as only some sort of larger and longer version of the primitive principles of unity that presently unite most communist formations. Another consequence has been to view the general line as a cumulative sum of particular positions, the all-too-familiar laundry list description of what a general line is. A different result has been the tendency to completely mystify the concept of general line, developing the view that someone else, somewhere else, will develop the line, and on one magic morning our day-to-day work will be endowed with a mysterious quality it never had before.
For our rectification process to succeed, we must discard these spontaneous misconceptions concerning the general line. Instead, we must realize that the general line is an overall political analysis that as accurately as possible describes social reality and lays out the concrete steps that can be taken to change it. It addresses the problems of society as a whole and only from the vantage point of the whole examines the parts. It recognizes the fundamental contradictions inherent in capitalism and provides guidance in accomplishing the only political achievement that can resolve those contradictions – the seizure of power by the working class and establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
As we deepen our grasp of what a general line is, we must internalize the fact that forging such a line is our concrete historical task. This is possible, necessary, and it falls to the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend and to no other body of people to meet this requirement of history.
Within this basic framework, we can begin to analyze more concretely what a leading general political line for the U.S. revolution would look like, and what tasks lie before us to develop it.
At the heart of a general line for the U.S. revolution lies the question of political power. Every aspect of the line must be infused with the recognition that what a communist party is all about is leading the working class to seizure of the state. This focus provides the crucial moorings against which every particular question and every aspect of work must be tested. It is precisely the abandonment of this focus that has historically marked the ascendancy of opportunist lines among communists, lines which have obscured the struggle for state power in favor of other goals for the working class movement.
Furthermore, while the question of power is in the direct sense a question of the seizure of power in the U.S., this seizure is inseparable from the worldwide struggle of the proletariat for political power. Though the socialist revolution takes place country by country, following the law of uneven development and recognizing national particularities, it is at the same time a profoundly international process. A myriad of economic and political threads bind together the world’s exploiters in the system of modern imperialism; each working class and national liberation struggle against exploitation and oppression is one front of a worldwide struggle against this system. In this sense, a common understanding of the workings of imperialism and the alignment of forces in a given historical period is essential for each revolutionary detachment to function as an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle. For this reason, any tendency to separate development of a general line of the U.S. communist movement from the development of a general line for the world movement dooms our rectification efforts to failure.
The tendency to make this incorrect separation is rooted again in the discontinuity of the world communist movement and certain views which have subsequently become popular among aspiring Marxist-Leninists. In the absence of a single leading line and center for Marxist-Leninists, a particular significance has been attached to such concepts as the self-reliance of parties and the importance of national particularities. To the extent that these concepts help to correct a negative legacy of flunkeyism and dogmatism in the international movement, Marxist-Leninists will unite with them. But such an emphasis can also be markedly one-sided if it obscures the fact that there exists indeed one international reality and a single interest of the international proletariat. While the application of a general line to specific countries necessarily differs, this fact should not be used to induce complacency in the struggle for a single line on the universal questions facing the world communist movement.
In this sense, no country’s communist movement can forge a leading line and build a party apart from addressing the burning questions of the international movement and uniting on a fundamentally sound international line. This comes to the fore with particular sharpness in the U.S. In the headquarters of world imperialism, it is simply inconceivable to develop a strategy for revolution that does not have a thoroughly internationalist vantage point. No other vantage point gives U.S. communists the basis to fully understand and expose the workings of the U.S. bourgeoisie, or to accurately analyze the balance of friendly and enemy forces. This is obviously true in taking up questions of international solidarity work, anti-draft and anti-war mobilizations, etc. But it is equally true in taking up such supposedly “domestic” questions as the workings of the U.S. trade union movement or the nature of the anti-racist struggle in the U.S. The labor movement in the U.S., for example, cannot be understood outside the context of the international nature of U.S. capital, population shifts caused by the distortion of economies by imperialism, links between the highest levels of the trade union leadership and international operations of the State Department and the CIA, or the question of analyzing a U.S. labor aristocracy existing in the context of imperialism.
In forging their party. U.S. communists immediately confront the task of addressing an overall analysis of the world situation and the process of international revolution. We cannot avoid the conclusion that rectification of the general line of the U.S. communist movement, then, is inseparable from the struggle of Marxist-Leninists in all countries to unite on the basic questions facing communists in this era.
Consequently, the rectification movement in the U.S. must take up as an integral part of its tasks the burning questions facing communists worldwide. In general, these questions can be divided into two basic areas: first, the theory of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, including a summation of the initial experiences the communist movement has gained in this process: and second, the political economy of contemporary imperialism. Breakthroughs in these areas are needed to provide us with an understanding of the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, other capitalist countries, the oppressed peoples of the world, and indeed, an all-sided view of the relationship between the U.S. bourgeoisie and proletariat. These understandings then provide the framework for grasping the motion of classes and balance of forces that is crucial for determining a revolutionary strategy in the U.S.
While questions universal to the international communist movement lie at the heart of the general line of our movement, they are not sufficient to forge a leading general line. Breakthroughs on the nature of the strategy for the seizure of power in advanced capitalist countries will make up another integral feature of our rectification tasks. In this area, the U.S. communist movement shares a commonality with Marxist-Leninists in Western Europe and Japan also grappling with this problem. The experience of the world communist movement to this point, while instructive, has not yet provided an adequate answer to this knotty problem.
In these countries, the working class generally constitutes the majority, if not the overwhelming majority, of the population. In this context, the task of class analysis and strategy determination only begins with identifying those sectors of the population whose class condition is that of the working class. It must proceed to the analysis of particular strata of the class and a determination of their concrete, historically shaped revolutionary potential. The complex stratifications and divisions in the working class are a key topic for scrutiny. Further, in addressing this problem communists must look squarely at the difficulty of conducting principally legal and parliamentary work over an extended period of time, yet using this work to prepare the extra-legal and military capacities of the working class to seize power. The ideological and political transformation of the working class into a united revolutionary force in these countries presents the Marxist-Leninists with a still unsolved theoretical and practical problem.
Finally, the development of a general line for the U.S. revolution will require an analysis of the many features particular to U.S. society. The central element of the particularity of revolutionary struggle in the U.S. is undoubtedly the special oppression of Black and other minority peoples. The intersection of the revolutionary struggle against racial and national oppression with the struggle of the working class as a whole will be the focal point in the class analysis and revolutionary seizure of power in the U.S.
In taking up this and other questions particular to the U.S. revolution, the importance of a thorough study of the particular history of the U.S. cannot be overestimated. Indeed, within the overall rectification movement it would be appropriate to launch a specific movement to study U.S. history and popularize a materialist analysis of this complex process of development throughout the movement and the advanced strata of the working class. It must be frankly stated that the U.S. movement has been and remains horrendously weak in this crucial area, leaving the powerful ideological and political weapon of the dominant interpretation of the country’s history to the bourgeoisie. What passes for Marxist history of the U.S. is often merely romanticized fables about the heroic working class, and exposure of the evils of the terrible capitalists – a sort of left-wing populism masquerading as Marxist historiography. No revolutionary party in the U.S. could be built on a firm footing without rectification of this crucial weakness. Indeed, it would be a strange line that claimed to be based upon historical materialism but failed to substantively address the history of the social formation it attempts to revolutionize.
This last point, in fact, sounds a basic theme of our approach to the question of general line. Fundamentally, this concept of general line is a defense and re-affirmation of historical materialism. “Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past” wrote Marx. Communists take upon themselves the task of leading the working class in changing history. To do so, communists must grasp the laws of social and historical development, analyze the “circumstances directly encountered,” and project before the masses the historically necessary path to altering them. This analysis and projection is expressed concretely in the communists’ general line. For U.S. Marxist-Leninists, it means weaving together the analysis of the international situation, the problem of revolution in advanced capitalist countries, and the particularities of U.S. society – all in the context of a historical analysis and a focus on the seizure of state power. Concretely posing this as the decisive breakthrough to be targetted by our rectification movement places our movement in harmony with the tasks assigned to it by history.
While the centerpiece of the rectification movement must be the development of a leading political line, this alone will not be sufficient to catapult the trend to the next stage of its development. In the course of taking up the decisive task of line rectification, the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend must transform its ideological outlook into that of a self-conscious vanguard force. While it is the political line developed through the rectification process that provides direction for the seizure of power, it is the communists’ grasp of their decisive role as the conscious elements in the class struggle that provides the ideological underpinnings of the communist vanguard.
For this view to become dominant in the trend will undoubtedly require difficult and protracted ideological struggle. The legacy of U.S. pragmatism has had a profound impact on the basic ideological orientation of the emerging communist elements, fostering an anti-intellectual prejudice, underestimation of the role of theory, and generally shortsighted attitude toward our revolutionary tasks. Attaining quick and palpable results has all too often been the only acceptable standard upon which to judge Marxist-Leninist theory or practice in the U.S. communist movement. That those results are sought either through voluntaristic acts of revolutionary heroism or by considering victories in reform struggles the ultimate test of scientific socialism is only a stark indication of how deeply the pragmatist outlook has affected U.S. revolutionaries and of how many varied forms pragmatism in action can take. The U.S. communist movement will have no real future unless it breaks decisively with this backward tradition.
The break will require advances for the trend in both its class stand and its command of the science of Marxism-Leninism.
In the realm of class stand, our trend must reassert and deepen its commitment to the long-range goals and interests of the international working class. At every moment when we are tempted to narrow our vision and consider only immediate, tangible results, we must take pause, step back, and regain our sense of the broad historical tasks of the proletariat. Though this confronts us continually with the immensity of our task – mobilizing millions to make revolution in the most powerful imperialist country on earth – only this standpoint gives us any hope of success. For only from this vantage point can we fully appreciate the crucial role of revolutionary theory, the fact that only the broad masses can actually be the makers of history, and the responsibility that rests with communists to guide the direction of the class struggle. Without the internalization of these principles, we indeed sink into being “trade union secretaries” and abandon our role as “tribunes of the people,” as Lenin puts it in What Is To Be Done?
Understandably, it is a difficult test of our class stand to maintain this broad vision before us even while our present forces* are so weak theoretically, politically, organizationally, and even numerically. Yet this only makes the struggle to embrace this vision all the more important. Our primitive state is not an indictment of our stand or dedication; but complacency concerning our political primitiveness would be grounds for conviction in the trial of history.
Though our acceptance of the broad responsibilities that lie before us sets our basic orientation, actually meeting these responsibilities will require far more than dedication and commitment. Our collective command of the science of Marxism-Leninism must grow to keep pace with the tasks before us. The fact that political line is the centerpiece of our rectification tasks does not diminish our need to reaffirm and deepen our grasp of dialectical and historical materialism, but only increases it.
This reaffirmation is fundamentally a defense of the principle that society operates according to certain objective historical laws, laws operating independently of the subjective will of society’s members. The intervention of the conscious element in changing the world consists in carrying out the transformation of society in accordance with these laws, not discarding them or negating their existence. In this sense, dialectical and historical materialism is not only a methodology, though it is the only accurate method of science, it is also a set of universal principles illuminating the course of human development. These principles, such as the role of class struggle in moving history forward, the development of the state as an instrument of class rule, the inevitable coming into harmony of the forces and relations of production, cannot be divorced from the historical materialist method without removing its essence as materialism.
This defense of historical and dialectical materialism is taken up in the first place by a materialist approach to our actual rectification tasks. Concretely, this means that our understanding of the Marxist method and Marxist principles must develop in the context of our struggle for a leading political line for the U.S. revolution. In this manner, we follow the approach of Marx, Engels and Lenin, who took up philosophical questions not as ends in themselves but for their profound significance in affecting the political struggle. It is no accident that the classic Marxist works on “method” are actually those analyzing concrete historical and political phenomena, in the course of which the dialectical and historical materialist method is sharpened and utilized to its fullest potential.
With this approach as our starting point, our trend must shed any hesitation it has to delve full force into struggles on the philosophical front. Here we come face to face with some of the historical weaknesses of the world communist movement, and the scope of our rectification tasks comes crashing in on us. The legacy we confront here is the strong tendency to oversimplify dialectical and historical materialism in the course of popularization which has affected the communist movement since the 1920s. Too often, political expediency rather than a concern for the long-range tasks of communists shaped the movement’s exploration of the science of Marxism-Leninism. While it was certainly correct to root philosophical battles firmly in the material political struggles of a given period, this was often done in a mechanical and oversimplified way. This was especially true in the U.S. communist movement, where the legacy of American pragmatism particularly weakened the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. party.
The impact of this negative tradition affects our still undeveloped Marxist-Leninist trend considerably. We have little experience with extended philosophical debate, hardly any sense of the political stakes that are often present in such a struggle. Under such conditions, it is all too tempting to write off this area of Marxist-Leninist development as “abstract” and useless to the “real” struggles of the working class. And each time the Marxist academy or communist forces not firmly grounded in materialism do take up philosophical debates and the result is hollow sterility, the importance of philosophical struggle is further discredited. Yet the political stakes in such struggles are too great to allow our movement the luxury of abstaining from the sharpest struggle to collectively master the science of dialectical and historical materialism.
In essence, the ideological transformation of the trend is aimed at consolidating it as the conscious element in the class struggle of the proletariat. Basing itself firmly on the science of Marxism-Leninism and the class stand of the proletariat, this conscious element will ultimately be the decisive factor in the ability of the U.S. working class to become a class-for-itself and seize the reigns of political power in the interests of humanity.
Clearly, the goal of the communist movement, the reason to build and consolidate a vanguard party, is to intervene effectively in the spontaneous mass movement, giving it leadership and guiding it toward the seizure of state power. The spontaneous movement is an inevitable response to the day-to-day oppression and exploitation of capitalism and emerges and develops quite independently of the presence or desires of the communists. However, without communist leadership, this movement will never escape the domination of bourgeois ideology, and will never be able to conduct an effective political struggle for state power.
In the pre-party period, the ability of communists to lead effectively the spontaneous movement is qualitatively limited by the lack of a revolutionary general line and vanguard party organized around this line. Precisely for this reason, our rectification tasks have come to the fore and the theoretical task of line development takes precedence over the practical task of implementing a leading line among the masses. The rectification movement is principally characterized by the struggle internal to the communist movement rather than by its struggle to win influence in the mass working class movement.
However, this does not mean that the rectification movement exists as a sort of hothouse process divorced from the class struggle in general or the immediate mass struggle of this immediate period in particular. In a broad historical sense, the theoretical debates and struggles of the rectification movement are focused precisely on those historically determined questions which must be resolved to forge a leading general line for the movement. These questions include, but are not limited to, those arising in an immediate sense out of the day-to-day struggles of the masses. As well, direct intervention in the spontaneous mass movement, even on the basis of a partial and shallow political line, is an ongoing and integral part of the rectification movement at all stages of its development. If carried out in a manner appropriate to the particular stage of development of both the communist and mass movements, such intervention can make immense contributions to our party building efforts.
In the first place, direct intervention in the spontaneous movement provides the Marxist-Leninists with a wealth of experience which can be summarized and incorporated into the developing general political line of the movement. The experiences gained in mass struggle provide crucial direct social investigation into the current conditions facing the working class, the behavior of various political forces in society, and the political and ideological level of the working class movement. These experiences highlight new questions that may be coming to the fore requiring communist attention. Additionally, intervention in the mass movement provides some initial testing of the developing political lines of the rectification movement.
Second, practical work among the masses provides an essential arena within which to train the future party cadre. Central to this training is the ideological consolidation of the cadre around the Leninist concept of vanguard leadership. Actually attempting to provide communist leadership to the masses gives the Marxist-Leninists their most vivid glimpse of the high standards and broad vision which must infuse the communist ranks.
Additionally, practical work provides the key arena to train the cadre in their ability to translate the broad political lines developed in the rectification movement into a material force among the masses. This requires that communists learn to develop the “mass line” as the effective bridge between the Marxist-Leninist movement and the broad masses – the translation of the political analyses of the communists into a language and concrete program that can be gripped by the masses. Though the ability to formulate and utilize mass line will become decisive only in the party period, initial training at this process must begin even in the rectification period.
Communist work during this period also means ideological, political, and organizational gains for the mass movement in its resistance to capital. Yet the main focus of our attention cannot yet be on these gains in the influence of Marxist-Leninists and the fighting capacity of the masses, but actually on the development and maturation of the communist forces themselves. For only if the emerging trend comes to maturity in a vanguard party – a process whose decisive aspect is found in the internal struggle within the Marxist-Leninist ranks – will the influence gained in the pre-party period acquire a historic significance.
While communists recognize this fact, the spontaneous mass movement does not. The objective laws of development of the spontaneous mass movement are not suspended simply because the conscious elements do not yet have a fully formulated line or a party. Consequently, when intervening in the mass movement, communists must demand the most rigorous standards for our work, leading around the most advanced line at our disposal and maintaining the broadest orientation toward our tasks.
Concretely, this means communists must take up work in a number of the major social movements of the present period. While trade union work is important, we should re-emphasize Lenin’s warning that this type of work has no “special significance” in building revolutionary consciousness and, therefore, cannot be the only or even necessarily the main focus of our intervention work now or once the party is reestablished. First of all, we must overcome that narrowness of vision which equates the trade unions with the working class, and which, in effect, attaches to the economic struggle of the proletariat (for the economic struggle is the precise domain of the trade unions) some extraordinary importance over other expressions of class struggle. In addition, work in the anti-racist struggles, the struggle to gain dominant influence in various minority communities and in the women’s movement, and anti-imperialist work all take on a political significance which is on a par with trade union work as targets for our intervention in this historical period.
In each of these areas, communists must struggle both to build and lead broad united fronts around progressive programs and demands as well as conduct independent revolutionary work to popularize socialist ideas broadly and win the most advanced forces to a scientific, Marxist-Leninist viewpoint. For this work to be effective, a national scope of vision must be brought to each struggle, a vision which can best be consolidated by the development of national organizational forms for intervention work. Besides making our work among the masses as effective as possible, this standpoint and approach is in fact the only one that allows us to gain full ideological, political, and organizational gains from this work.
While the immediate pressures of mass work and the complexity of our theoretical tasks may pose difficult problems before the rectification movement, a proper perspective on our tasks can insure that the varied aspects of this contradiction move each other forward rather than impede progress. As theoretical breakthroughs are made, our mass work can be taken up more effectively. As intervention in the class struggle provides lessons for communists and increases their influence, our ability to take up and enrich our theoretical work is advanced. The key to this harmonious unfolding of our work lies in maintaining our vision on the decisive target of rectification of the general line and using this as the central thread tying together the many diverse practical and theoretical tasks of the rectification movement.
Training Marxist-Leninist cadre must be an integral part of the rectification movement. This idea, on the surface so obvious, is not as simple and straightforward as it seems. For once we go beyond the most general statement of the importance of developing professional revolutionary activists, a host of contradictory concepts of what this involves confront the Marxist-Leninists. As part and parcel of our rectification task, we must reaffirm and deepen the concept of cadre development in the Leninist sense of the term.
In the first place, cadre development never takes place separate and apart from a particular political task. Cadre development is not an end in itself, and it is not possible to train cadre “in general.” Cadre develop in particular ways relative to the particular political tasks that are set before them.
Furthermore, the various political tasks around which cadre develop cannot be chosen arbitrarily, just to have some task around which to develop cadre. This method boils down to a more sophisticated version of the cadre-development-for-cadre-development’s-sake approach. On the contrary, the healthy development of cadre can only occur relative to the political tasks that are posed to the communists by history. It is the concrete historical task facing the communists at any given period that must be the centerpiece for any approach to developing cadre into professional revolutionaries. In this sense, revolutionary training of cadre in this period in the U.S. can only take place relative to the concrete task of the period – resolving the crisis of the U.S. communist movement and forging a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party.
Additionally, cadre development is inevitably shaped by the political line under which the cadre are trained. A correct line on the tasks at hand unleashes the full talents and energy of the cadre; an inadequate or flawed line stunts the growth of the cadre, and an opportunist line actually corrupts cadre and ruins activists for revolutionary work. In this sense, one indication of a line’s correctness is the quality of cadre developed under the line’s guidance.
For our movement today, one of our crucial tasks in developing cadre is training cadre who will be competent and professional at implementing the political line of the U.S. communist movement as it is developed. Without cadre who understand and are capable of making this line a material force, no party developed from our trend could win influence among the masses.
Yet this focus by itself would be one-sided. The cadre trained during the rectification period must not only be capable of understanding and implementing the line, they must be trained to actively participate in formulating and developing the line itself. This is not due to some general allegiance to the importance of “process” for its own sake. Rather it is because no healthy Marxist-Leninist party can be built in the U.S. if this is not the case.
In the first place, the complexity of the general line of the U.S. communist movement requires that the widest range of experience and expertise be brought to bear on its development. It is simply not possible for a handful of individuals, whatever their genius, to formulate an all-sided perspective on the U.S. revolution in the present era of imperialism. Consequently, the development of the line itself requires the broad participation of the cadre in its formation.
Second, such a standard is essential to placing the ideological and theoretical underpinnings of the party on a firm foundation. A leading line is not a static thing – it evolves, changes, gets refined in light of new phenomena. And it is constantly threatened with distortion and degeneration, either because it fails to keep pace with new developments or it actually is influenced by bourgeois deviations that affect the party. The party needs the broadest possible net of cadre to guard the line, refine it, and consistently scrutinize it to move it forward. This process rounds out the dialectic between cadre and line; while the line develops the cadre, the cadre in turn participate in developing the line.
Additionally, the concept of cadre training must be rescued from its debasement as “skill sharing” and restored to its full meaning of training cadre as professional revolutionaries. Certainly a key aspect of cadre training is developing skills at writing, agitating, speaking, organizing meetings, self-defense, etc. Yet these are not the essence of what cadres must grasp to function in a party. In essence, cadres must develop into the advanced stratum of the working class that grasps the historic mission of the class and the vanguard role communists must play. In other words, communists need a sense of history, a broad scope of vision, a scientific outlook that enables each comrade to solve the new and complex problems confronting revolutionaries virtually every day. In short, every cadre must be trained as a leader of the working class movement, not a follower of a set of regulations.
This vision of cadre training undoubtedly widens the scope of our rectification tasks. It alerts us to the need for the widest and deepest mobilization of the full energies of our trend to participate actively in transforming the trend into a party. It highlights the need to avoid the short-circuit approach, where the immediate efficiency of a neat and simple falling into line of activists is our goal of party building.
But if it does these things, it also gives us a real glimpse of the “Bolshevized core” that will actually make up the crucial scaffolding of our future party. We use this term for its refers accurately to the quality of cadre that made up the nucleus of the Bolshevik party in the era of Lenin. The concept of Bolshevik core has been distorted and has come to be identified with iron discipline, following orders, willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the party, etc. While these may in fact be features of a party’s central cadre, they do not target correctly the essence of that core of cadre. In its real meaning, the decisive factor in forging a “Bolshevized core” is the broad historic vision of the tasks of communists, the commitment to take responsibility for leading the working class, and the rigorous struggle to constantly sharpen the leading line guiding the work of the party. With these factors built into the party’s inner scaffolding, the professional standards needed to actually carry through leadership of the revolution come within our grasp.
The U.S. communist movement has never fully consolidated such a revolutionary core at the center of its existence. The CPUSA in its heyday contained many dedicated cadre and did carry the most advanced line of the period into the mass struggle. But it never fully overcame the legacy of U.S. pragmatism and therefore failed to build a revolutionary center of the caliber required to meet the immense responsibilities of the U.S. revolution. Attempts since then have not even approximated the achievements of the CPUSA. Yet it is upon this vision that our trend must set its sights.
One of the complexities of conducting a rectification movement outside the framework of an existing party or party-like structure is that there is no leading center recognized by all Marxist-Leninists to guide the rectification campaign. Yet the notion that a broad rectification movement could even function coherently, let alone give rise to a reestablished party, without a leading political, ideological, and organizational center guiding its development would be absurd. Such a notion runs counter to the entire emphasis on the role of consciousness and the dangers of bowing to spontaneity that are at the heart of the concept of rectification itself.
The basic responsibility of a leading center for the rectification movement is to guide its development of a revolutionary general line, and the accomplishment of the other crucial tasks of the pre-party period. As well, a leading center must, at the proper time, initiate the actual organizational measures for re-establishing a vanguard party. More specifically, the center must at any given time provide concrete programmatic guidance to taking up the tasks immediately before the rectification movement.
Forging such a center is no simple task. In the first place, it cannot be constructed mainly by organizational means or be chosen in some supposedly democratic fashion by all those activists who subjectively identify with the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend. A leading center for the rectification movement can only be forged when based upon a leading line on the reasons for such a movement, its goals and tasks, and the method for unfolding the movement and maximizing its gains. As well, this leading center must have at least a minimal concept of what the eventual general line for the movement will be, even if at the earliest stages of its development this concept is limited to a thorough grasp of the lines of demarcation with modern revisionism and “left” opportunism. In essence, such a center must be based on a leading party building line and an ever-developing political line that can give vision, scope and direction to the rectification movement.
The struggle to forge such a leading center for the rectification movement will be complex and difficult. As long as the trend is not united on a single party building line, no one center will be recognized by all Marxist-Leninist forces as the leading force in the entire movement. Precisely because no center is yet united on an all-sided revolutionary line for the seizure of power in the U.S., no center in the rectification period can all-sidedly guide all the theoretical and practical work of its adherents. Furthermore, no center in the pre-party period could have the stability of personnel normally found in a party center. Precisely because the period is one of great flux in the theoretical and political struggle over line, we can expect constant alignment and realignment of forces with the accompanying changes in leadership. Essentially, the authority, all-sidedness, and stability of any leading center in the rectification period is limited by the same factor that limits the unity, all-sidedness, and coherence of the trend as a whole – the absence of a single revolutionary line uniting all genuine Marxist-Leninists.
Despite these limitations, however, leadership for the rectification movement must be forged to its maximum potential, even from the earliest stages of that movement. Each party-building center in the trend should and must struggle to provide the most effective leadership toward building the trend and transforming it into a vanguard party. The emergence of one center that has proven its leadership in carrying out this task will depend, of course, on that centers actual achievements in guiding the ideological, political, and organizational breakthroughs that can resolve the crisis of the U.S communist movement.
The Line of March Editorial Board, through its elaboration of the rectification party building line, articulated concept of a rectification movement, and initial views on various political and theoretical questions, is presently one of the centers attempting to provide leadership for the trend. As a further step in deepening the concept of a rectification movement and attempting to make it a material force, the final section of this article presents some beginning programmatic ideas concerning the methods of building the rectification movement in the immediate period ahead.
In Foundations of Leninism Stalin targetted “Russian Revolutionary Sweep” and “American Efficiency” as the two specific features making up the style of work of Leninism. The broad vision of our rectification tasks described in the preceding sections provides us with our “Russian Revolutionary Sweep,” that “antidote to inertia, routine, conservatism, mental stagnation, and slavish submission to ancient traditions. . . the life-giving force which stimulates thought, impels things forward, breaks the past and opens up perspectives.”
But this broad sweep will never become a material force if it is not embodied in a program and combined with “American Efficiency” which, “with its business-like perseverance, brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable.” The Russian Revolutionary Sweep in any rectification program will be embodied in its bold vision of its tasks and of the future party institutions that are being built even in this pre-party period. The American Efficiency will be embodied in the attention to detail and to the very concrete steps which will be required to build and sustain such a broad movement of Marxist-Leninists.
At this early stage of our self-conscious rectification movement, such a program will still have a tentative character. Undoubtedly, it will be fleshed out and refined as advanced experiences are accumulated and new and more advanced methods of taking up our tasks are developed. But even at this point, a program for rectification work can map out some of the basic institutions required for a rectification movement.
In the first place, major forms must be built to increase tenfold the scope, depth, and pace of theoretical work undertaken by our trend. In a movement where even the more experienced leaders have relatively little training and preparation for advanced theoretical work and anti-intellectual prejudices remain strong, this is no easy task. But the call for theoretical tasks to be given primary importance remains a hollow sentiment unless it is linked to concrete institutions built to organize and develop that work.
Our trend has already forged some advanced experiences in forms for this type of work, and by examining those lessons we can best consolidate these gains and expand them. In this light, we have much to learn from the work of the Soviet Union Study Project, a nationwide theoretical effort bringing together a number of experienced and theoretically developed Marxist-Leninists to focus their energies on tackling one of the thorniest questions of the international communist movement. In its less than two year history, the project has taken up a serious study of the thesis that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union, effectively refuted that thesis, developed some initial opinions on the history of the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution, formulated some important hypotheses concerning the nature of Soviet society today, and begun to actively popularize its work to the entire trend through forums, debates, and publications. The project’s work is continuing, with an increasing focus on developing an accurate view of Soviet reality today. A considerable body of experience concerning methods of approach to advanced theoretical tasks was accumulated in the course of this work.
First, the development of a specialized study project allowed for a division of labor in the trend as a whole in such a manner that a number of relatively advanced comrades could focus their energies on a single question, examine it in depth, and develop a leading line concerning it. Such a concentration of forces makes effective use of our trend’s only too scarce human and material resources, and allows for breakthroughs at setting high standards for the method and approach to theoretical work.
Within the project, favorable conditions are set for a collective style of theoretical work to develop as the group tackles a complex political problem. Such a style can overcome individual weaknesses and the “private property” attitude toward ideas that often characterizes advanced theoretical work.
In terms of method, one of the key lessons learned from this project is the importance of a leading hypothesis that can be targetted to prove or disprove in the course of study. This allows the study to proceed in an effective political fashion. If the project had taken as its starting point the question, “What do we think of the Soviet Union?” the results would be months of exploration in all directions without a clear ability to separate primary from secondary questions, prioritize areas of research, or keep a focus on the political significance of the question itself. Instead, the project took as its starting point the task of “proving or disproving the thesis that capitalism has been restored in the USSR.” This gave the work direction, forced the participants to reconstruct the restoration thesis, identify its main points, and take up the theoretical task of confirming or disproving them empirically and theoretically. The crucial importance of such a hypothesis to guide research and study (whether the hypothesis itself is correct or incorrect) cannot be overestimated in advanced theoretical work.
Additionally, and flowing directly from the previous point, the method of the project involved an ongoing polemic with the major outstanding views on the question studied. In short, the development of a correct line was inseparably bound up with the polemic and with the critique of existing and influential views.
In the coming years we hope to see a number of advanced projects tackling particular questions, projects which would undoubtedly build on and deepen the lessons gained by the Soviet Union Study Project. A Racism/National Question study project has been functioning for some time and a number of others are certainly needed. Initiative for such projects may come from a variety of forces in the movement who grasp the importance of a specific question and have the capacity to launch serious and active work to take it up.
Additionally, the establishment of Line of March – A Marxist-Leninist Journal of Rectification can and will provide a focal point for the development of a number of specialized theoretical work teams tackling various questions. The existence of such a journal in the trend multiplies our ability to organize theoretical work on a variety of questions and allows the trend to locate, identify, and develop the forces who can best take up such work as effectively as possible.
In essence, the advanced study projects and specialized work teams of the rectification period are the forerunners of future party commissions on outstanding political and theoretical questions facing communists. Even when the main task of the communist movement is not line rectification, there will be a constant need for some party members to be doing advanced research and investigation into particular questions that are unsettled or just appearing on the horizon. To organize such work, a party central committee or political bureau authorizes a special commission to take up the task. The lessons learned in this period by advanced projects and teams will be invaluable when our movement reaches this stage of development.
Closely associated with such advanced projects must be means to popularize their results trend-wide, raising the level of the entire trend and sparking widespread debate and discussion over their conclusions. Indeed, forms for popularization are crucial in maintaining a healthy relationship between the advanced teams of relatively more experienced comrades and the broad base of trend activists. They provide a key aspect of the mechanisms needed to deal with uneven development among Marxist-Leninists, and to bring the ideas of the entire trend to bear on particular questions.
Our trend has begun to develop a number of advanced experiences of this kind, though much work remains to be done before these forms become firmly rooted institutions looked to by every cadre as an indispensable part of revolutionary life. Line of March and Theoretical Review have been built as journals speaking to the trend, and The Organizer, the Guardian, and Obreros en Marcha occasionally publish theoretical pieces within the limits (for theoretical articles) of their newspaper formats. Line of March Publications has begun the regular publication and distribution of theoretical materials, and other trend formations have at times issued major theoretical pamphlets and articles.
Of particular importance in broadening the theoretical struggle in the trend has been recent development of regular Marxist-Leninist forum series in a number of cities. Such monthly forums provide a crucial arena to bring the attention of the entire trend in a given locality – or even nationwide – to bear on particular theoretical questions. Going hand in hand with such forums are discussion groups on theoretical questions, where smaller groups of Marxist-Leninists can discuss a topic in depth. The establishment of regular discussion groups around Line of March which utilize study guides and supplementary readings to complement the journal articles themselves yields the trend significant advanced experience. Taken together, the forums and discussion groups are the seeds of the institutions needed by a party for the rigorous line struggle and rich internal life that must exist within its ranks. Ongoing forms institutionalizing theoretical and political debate among communists are the mechanisms of inner-party democracy and enrichment of a line from the organized contributions of the cadre.
Even as these forms have taken shape, the need for a more systematic effort to raise the theoretical level of the trend and develop a common language for debate and discussion has come to the fore. Such a systematic effort is indispensable in order to address the problem of uneven development, maximize participation in the rectification movement, develop activists as professional revolutionaries, train advanced workers in the basic science of Marxism, and provide that the maximum of resources be directed to our theoretical tasks.
Over the past two years, an important breakthrough in developing such a systematic effort has been made with establishment of the Marxist-Leninist Education Project (MLEP). As the forerunner of a future party school, MLEP has the capacity to train hundreds of activists each year in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism.
The heart of the MLEP is its eight-month course in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, which so far has been completed by more than 250 activists nationwide. This course covers the basics of Marxist philosophy, political economy, the basic works of Lenin, and the major advances in Marxist-Leninist theory and strategy since Lenin, including studies of the demarcations with Trotskyism, modern revisionism, and “left” opportunism. The fundamentals course is a crucial tool in training advanced workers in the science of Marxism-Leninism and giving them the basis to participate actively in the internal life of the communist movement.
Besides training students, the MLEP is producing a significant number of experienced and well trained political instructors. This is of crucial importance to the rigorous consolidation of the many new activists who will step forward from the mass movements in the coming years. When the spontaneous movement enters another flow and thousands of people enter the revolutionary ranks, the existence of a corps of competent political instructors will be essential in maintaining the high theoretical caliber of the communist movement.
To build on the foundations of the fundamentals course, MLEP is also launching a number of advanced courses. A U.S. history course will be launched this year, and philosophy and political economy courses are being planned. The overall development of a substantial curriculum in Marxism-Leninism will be of untold value in placing the future party on the firmest of theoretical foundations. Additionally, it will be a major material blow against the pragmatic and anti-intellectual prejudices of the trend, as an institution such as MLEP is actually able to develop that “working class intelligentsia” that Lenin saw as indispensable for making socialist ideology a material force among the masses.
While the institutions and forms primarily devoted to theoretical tasks and study will receive the main focus of our programmatic efforts in this period, developing appropriate forms for communist intervention in the spontaneous mass movement is also a priority of the rectification movement. Such forms must be designed considering both their effectiveness in guiding work among the masses and in synthesizing lessons for the trend as a whole.
Given the complexity and diversity of the mass movement in the U.S. as well as the flexibility needed within communist ranks in this period, such forms are bound to be varied and, to a large degree, experimental. Already our trend has gained some experience in building local communist collectives focusing on a specific geographical area, trend-wide caucuses for discussion and struggle over line, communist fractions focusing on a specific front of mass struggle, and revolutionary mass organizations attempting to gain a vantage point in a specific arena of the spontaneous mass movement.
All of these forms, as well as others, may be appropriate at one time or another in the rectification period. Yet increasingly, what we would expect to come to the fore are national forms with a relatively developed political line on one specific arena of mass struggle, and trend-wide caucuses for line struggle and debate.
These two forms will come to the fore, for they meet the needs of the rectification period and plant the seeds of what will be needed in the future party. Nationwide forms with specific focuses are needed, fundamentally because the class struggle in the U.S. takes place on a nationwide scale. Only a national scope of vision and national work can illuminate the multi-faceted class forces at work in each particular situation and draw out the full significance of each specific struggle for the political training of the proletariat. In that sense, the distinctions between national and local forms is not essentially a geographical question, but a political one.
Of course, to conduct such nationwide work effectively requires a relatively developed political line on the organization’s focused area of work. If such a line is not at the root of a particular formation, no basis exists to function in a systematic manner, consistently plan and summarize work, operate collectively with a degree of accountability and discipline, or deepen the political unity of the formation. Without these factors, little influence will be gained in the formation’s mass work and few if any advanced lessons will be learned for the line struggles of the communist movement. Consequently, as the trend struggles to organize forms for intervention in the mass struggle, nationwide forms with relatively developed lines (whether on the level of a Marxist-Leninist fraction or a revolutionary mass organization) will come to the fore.
In many areas of struggle, there will not be sufficient unity among Marxist-Leninists to forge a single formation to guide practical work among the masses at this stage of the trend’s development. In such cases, regular trend-wide caucuses for discussion and struggle should be forged to resolve the contradiction. These forms can play an important role in examining the line and work of forces in the trend, and in conducting the summation of experience and line struggle needed to build eventual unity. In some cases, these caucuses could well evolve into forms for guiding intervention in the spontaneous movement, if unity among the Marxist-Leninists can be built.
The development of forms for communists to guide intervention in the mass movement and address the questions flowing from such intervention rounds out our present thinking on rectification work. Combined with study teams/projects, journals, forums and discussion groups on advanced theoretical material, and systematic cadre training institutions, they constitute an effective coherent network of initiatives with which to conduct our rectification work in this period. They make up, in essence, the key building blocks of the rectification movement and the seeds of future party institutions.
However, the rectification movement is indeed a movement, and as such will transcend the boundaries of even its key institutions. Any real movement spills over the edges of specific organizational forms and becomes a living force on the overall life of its participants and those around it. The rectification movement can and must take on the same quality. Theoretical debate and discussion, summation of experience, ideological struggle, will not and cannot be restricted to the formal meetings of organizations. Instead, they will spill over into the dinner-times, social life, and leisure time of the trend, and create an atmosphere of lively struggle and intellectual ferment that will become a distinctive feature of the genuine Marxist-Leninist trend. It will become an active magnet for those workers stepping forward from the mass movement most interested in broadening their horizons and political visions, most concerned about how the world works and how it will be changed. Becoming larger than the sum of its parts, the rectification movement will be capable of affecting activists well beyond its formal boundaries, and will in fact be able to utilize the energies and talents even of those who desire to ignore it or who disagree with its premises and goals.
Such phenomena already are visible just below the surface in areas where the rectification movement is most advanced, and will undoubtedly come to the fore in other areas over the next few years. As they do come to the fore, it will be a concrete indication that the rectification movement is a living material force, that it has taken hold on the energy and imagination of the trend, and that it is capable of making the breakthroughs that will result in re-establishment of a Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S.