Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Susan K.

Readers Critique Hamilton ’Message to Movement’

’Views are road to further disintegration’


First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 2, March 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Some comments on the Jim Hamilton article in the February issue:

Communists have been debating for many decades the same issues raised in this article. I have no hope that these can get wrapped up this month in the pages of our newspaper. Hamilton poses many questions about communist principle and leadership. In my estimation, he offers no answers.

He says that the chief question with which revolutionaries all over the world are grappling is, “Why has there never been a successful revolution in the advanced capitalist world?”

We can’t speak for the whole capitalist world. We have to figure out what we have to do in the U.S., how we can overcome our past isolation and offer some effective revolutionary political leadership. Jim Hamilton offers no answer to this problem with which the CPML is grappling.

Hamilton describes more or less accurately some of the weaknesses and virtually none of the strengths of our movement; some of its failures and virtually no successes.

The weaknesses he targets are indeed real. None of the mistakes he lists are “trumped up.” We made ’em. Communists ought to be willing to put our work under the microscope and examine it minutely, and figure out what we’re doing wrong . . . and what we’re doing right.

I think he tends to throw up his hands in despair and throw out everything. He paints with a broad brush. It’s not just our mistakes, it’s the world communist movement and its leaders who have been a pack of mass murderers, to hear him tell it (or to hear Time Magazine or the New York Daily News tell it). The historical experience of socialism is characterized by “mass killings”; and again, its achievements are not to be called forth.

Seeing our own and international experience in this manner is not a step in the direction of objectivity. From the left, it’s part of the big brainwash to which we are all subjected in this society. The smears against communism which the right has always trumpeted are now echoed on the left. One set of dogma has been dropped, and a new dogma has taken its place.

I must confess that I lean toward what Hamilton terms the “apocalyptic vision” of revolution in the U.S. To him, this is a doctrinaire notion. But I did not just read it in a book. Like thousands of others, my real life experiences have led me to this point of view.

Having been tear-gassed, beat up and shot at in demonstrations for such demands as the right to vote itself, has given many of us a rather skeptical attitude toward the possibility of electoral seizure of power in the United States. If this makes me a “dogmatist,” then so be it.

I believe that revolution in the U.S. will be bloody. Hard-fought. Violent. It will call forth countless sacrifices from the people-when the day comes that the people cannot stand to live this way any longer, and because the capitalist class won’t give up its power any other way.

I will be happy, Jim Hamilton, if I am proven wrong. But in the meantime, I’m damned if 111 argue with my fellow workers that we can vote our class into the White House.

Electoral struggle has got to be one tactic among many. And not all of them are equal in stature. Never has the CPML argued, as Hamilton charges, that “armed struggle is the only strategic component of the revolutionary seizure of power.” But certainly, as the most reliable, the most probable, and at the right moment, the decisive component.

In any case, we’re not even in a pre-revolutionary situation and the actual manner in which revolutionary crisis will arise here can’t be predicted. Hamilton’s message doesn’t take into account such factors as the eventuality of economic collapse or a world war, which would immeasurably alter the conditions of struggle. We are not going to head in a straight line to the electoral seizure of power as a logical, evolutionary outgrowth of the “democratic” system.

We should discard all our old student-movement notions like contempt for electoral politics. Work inside all the political parties, not just those of the left. Fight for the people on every front.

We’ve got a lot of things to correct, over time, within the general thrust of our revolutionary work. We’ve got to change emphasis, relieve ourselves of many narrow attitudes and self-imposed restrictions against taking up forms of work we previously considered “impure”–the broadest economic struggles, trade union coalitions, electoral fronts, and so on. Yet our aims must stand.

It is quite true that we cannot yet spell out in detail a description of a socialist U.S. But I do not believe this “vision” is the property of a few intellectual seers or journalists. It is something that people will forge out of the concrete experiences of fighting oppression.

It would be wrong for us to just hold up socialist China as our model here. But it is equally wrong to paint some Utopian vision of our own making. People will not decide they’re in favor of socialism because of some pamphlet.

People become socialist and communist because the communists fight side by side with them for the things they need, and we fight, or should fight, in ways that can bring victories. We have not yet, in my view, mastered these winning ways. Too often, our sectarianism has kept us on the sidelines of mass struggles, criticizing or silent when we should have been in there, pitching, learning, and when possible, teaching. And, when we have been in there, people have listened.

What kind of socialism the U.S. will have is a complex question that can’t be spelled out right now. But that does not mean we should freeze our propagandizing in favor of socialism, the best we can, until we can answer this question fully. Today, it seems this is what’s happened.

For instance, in The Call we have apparently stopped publishing articles about socialism in the real world, in those countries where it actually exists. And the sole mention of socialism in the Call’s entire February issue is Hamilton’s scurrilous reference to “mass killings.”

Yes, Marxism is a science, an inexact, human science. But even here, Hamilton forgets something important. True, a falling object will fall at the same rate of speed anywhere in the world – provided no external forces act upon it. You can’t understand science if you overlook this interaction –whether in physical science or the science of class struggle. To forget this is to become another kind of dogmatist.

Marxism, like every science, has its laws, principles and boundaries. And its universalities. These we’ve got to work to crystalize, retain and adapt to our conditions. We need to become better Marxists, not less Marxists or former Marxists. Don’t equate the fight against ultra-leftism with the fight against Marxist theory itself.

What makes us different from other revolutionaries is what we stand for and how we fight, our method–with its stress on mass line, seeking truth from facts, and self-criticism. We should not let the things we stand for prevent us from being able to work together with other progressive forces who don’t share all our objectives. But we also have something to offer: a consistently revolutionary perspective around which to strive for unity.

In the past, we have fought narrowly, sometimes blinded by self-glorification. This, we all agree, has got to change. But I believe we can make this change as Marxist-Leninists, retaining our aims and our ideals, standing firm on what we’re fighting for, and offering a clear, revolutionary political alternative.

Jim Hamilton’s views offer no road forward for us in the fight against ultra-leftism. They are a road, in my opinion, to further disintegration.