Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Martin responds to LRS: Joint practice and discussion key to M-L unity

First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 4, June 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Call Note: An article by Mae Ngai in last month’s UNITY, published by the League of Revolutionary Struggle, raised criticisms about the John Martin article, “The Crisis in Marxism and M-L Unity” in last month’s Call. To further clarify Martin’s views and to aid in building unity, Martin answered a few questions put to him by The Call.

* * *

The Call: Mae Ngai asserted that you divided the M-L movement into two “trends” and said, “The view put forward in Martin’s article will result in a split in the M-L movement.” Do you think the divisions in the M-L movement are irreconcilable or that a split is inevitable?

John Martin: Definitely not. The CPML sees the conditions for uniting M-Ls as more favorable than ever. We are currently having discussions with several M-L organizations, including LRS, on ways to unite in a single party. There is unevenness in the unity process, but we think the class and national struggle and the menacing international situation today demand the strongest efforts toward ridding each organization of sectarianism and promoting the spirit of compromise within the struggle for principled unity.

Discussions in our Interim Political Committee concerning unity of M-Ls have sharply criticized any view that two “trends” or “camps” currently exist in the M-L movement. We do not believe that an “opportunist” and a “correct” wing exist at this time.

However, while the CPML does not divide the movement into “trends” or “camps,” we do think there are different ways to approach our tasks today. Inside the CPML, many of these different approaches exist.

The different approaches, in my opinion, have less to do at this time with formal political line (self-determination, the need for a communist party, etc.) than with how to develop and apply these concepts to the united front or to other mass work. Though differences undoubtedly exist on a number of questions, I believe no organization has convincingly shown through practice that they have a lock on the correct orientation to winning the U.S. people to revolution.

The importance of a correct methodology can not be overstated. The 70s witnessed any number of “parties,” including the CPML, who claimed they had the “correct” line. A “correct” line that kept changing, I might add. One of the clearest examples of ultra-leftism was this premature flaunting of the “correct” line on almost every subject.

For example, the theory of the “main blow” was even declared a M-L principle and became the CPML’s strategic line on labor, isolating us from potential allies and the emerging reform movement. Today M-Ls must become more modest. Starting with what we can sum up, we should admit what we do not know and work with other M-Ls to develop a more mature political line.

It is our feeling that uniting M-Ls is both necessary and possible. We see no reason for LRS to be so upset by a potential CPML-RWH merger. We are willing to enter discussions with LRS on almost any subject both at the leadership level as well as directly between cadre in the districts.

Our policies are aimed at uniting M-Ls and breaking down artificial barriers. Our movement has a history of raising false lines of demarcation and forcing unnecessary splits. The CPML is determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of the ’70s.

What do you mean by a “to the masses” approach? Don’t M-Ls go “to the masses” and not “to the books” or “to the closet” as the LRS article asked?

The formula “to the masses” was a bit vague and misleading. Let me explain what I mean by referring to history.

At the 3rd Congress of the Communist International in 1921, Lenin began a summing up of the failures of the communist parties of Europe to seize power after 1917. Lenin especially heaped scorn on the German party for their “theory of the revolutionary offensive.” This theory overestimated the consciousness of the masses, substituted revolutionary verbiage for concrete agitation and resulted in the crushing of the German revolution.

Lenin said, “If the Congress is not going to wage a vigorous offensive against such errors, against such ’Leftist’ stupidities, the whole movement is doomed.” In typically strong language he argued against the view that it is not necessary to win over a “majority” for revolution. Later Lenin insisted that Comintern resolutions were “too Russian” and criticized Western communists for taking the Russian experience and “hanging it in a corner like an icon and praying to it.” He demanded the Comintern stop promoting its main slogan, “Down with the Centrists,” and instead raised “to the masses” as the guiding slogan for the work of the communist parties.

Clearly 1921 is not 1981 and the world has fundamentally changed. But the essential meaning of “to the masses”ónot just to work among the masses, but to make a break from ultra-left sloganeering, dogmatism and sectarian splitting of the united front remains a sharp lesson for today. The CPML has found the greatest unity with those organizations and individuals who sum up ultra-leftism as the principal barrier to overcome.

The main questions Marxist-Leninists should be debating today are what period we are in, what strategy we should adopt, and which type of tactics are most useful. Just as in the post-1917 period, some western Marxist-Leninists after the Cultural Revolution and the worldwide upsurge of the 1960s characterized the period as “pre-revolutionary,” reduced strategy to offensive tactics and wildly overestimated the consciousness of the people.

The essence of the current struggle, as I said in my article, “is to move from merely restating the ’principles’ of Marxism to applying a correct methodology and developing a realistic strategy and tactics for the revolutionary movement.”

I believe that unless ultra-leftism is vigorously struggled against in the manner which Lenin described, our movement will be doomed to posturing and gesticulating from the sidelines as a sect, while the masses surge forward.

But it is important to note that we do not see differences on what is the main danger today as a “Berlin wall” between organizations. Each organization should sum up what it thinks and adjust its policies accordingly. We have much to learn from one another. On the other hand, differences on this important question naturally affect the pace of M-L unity.

The UNITY article criticized your conditions for M-L unity of “ideological compatibility” and “practical unity” as “gross subjectivism.” LRS says the “policies of RWH, CPML and LRS are at the heart of the current dispute.” Are the current CPML unity efforts based on blocing against LRS or on “unprincipled unity”?

First of all, the unity efforts of the CPML are not confined to RWH and LRS. Other M-L organizations exist which have made important contributions to our movement, including the Proletarian Unity League and the Marxist Leninist League. The CPML favors organizational unity of all M-Ls and opposes blocs based on nothing but opposition to one group or another.

Ideological discussion between M-Ls have been going on for some time. Besides the CUML, the CPML has held bilateral discussions with several M-L organizations and discussed all areas of political line, both on a national level and in the districts. Though there are indeed differences on major questions like international line, trade union line, the Chicano national question and others, some of these differences exist inside the CPML and other groups as well.

The key question is how to move forward, not how to reexamine each organization’s formal positions under an ideological microscope. Discussions with the RWH as well as other M-Ls have revealed a high degree of political unity. In addition, the RWH and CPML share a common view of the seriousness of ultra-leftism, while also opposing right errors and social-democratic deviations. But many of these same points are also points of agreement with LRS. What accounts for the different pace of unity between CPML and LRS, and CPML and RWH?

The answer, I believe, lies in the ability of RWH and CPML to work together to develop joint plans of work, make strategic plans, deepen discussions of line and work out differences. In fact, as Mae Ngai correctly points out for IWK and ATM “joint practical work enabled us to share experiences and to deepen and add new dimensions to the unity being forged on politics.”

It is precisely this combination of “ideological compatibility” and “joint practice” which is pushing a CPML-RWH merger forward. The CPML and RWH are forging a common political line on the basis of practice, summing up and ideological discussions.

There have been difficulties in working jointly in this way with LRS. I believe the one-sided emphasis of LRS on ideological struggle is a major reason for the lagging pace of unity between the two organizations.

There is no reason to pit unity on a common line and program against stepping up joint practical work. Doesn’t the serious international and U.S. political scene demand more common efforts? The CPML favors stepped up efforts to criticize sectarianism, to build practical unity in all areas of work, as well as to continue joint ideological discussions on a leadership and district level.

The LRS article claimed your call for a plan to unite with minority M-Ls was “chauvinist,” “paternalist,” and filled with a “lack of respect” toward minority M-Ls. How do you respond?

Experience in the M-L movement has shown that minority M-Ls have been severely affected by both left and right liquidation of the national question. The result has been distrust toward multinational organizations and a large number of independent minority M-Ls who have left various groups. Organizing special conferences or making a “special” approach to independent minority M-Ls is not “paternalist” but a recognition of the strategic importance to M-L unity of the national questions and the difficulty of solving the national question organizationally.

If LRS wishes to sum up their positive and negative experience on the national question and organization, it would be more helpful than the polemical approach of their article.

As far as the equation by UNITY of the RWH line on the national question with the chauvinist line of the RU and RCP, I refer readers to the review of the RWH pamphlet on the national question on page 8 of this issue.

What do you think of the proposal LRS put forward to advance struggle for M-L unity?

The CPML is in favor of all proposals that will advance unity, including the LRS proposal. We have not yet received a text of the proposal, but we are certainly inclined to accept discussions that will result in further unity.

At the same time we see no reason for such discussions to slow down or halt the current unity process the CPML is engaged in. Other organizations have accomplished mergers over the past years which have generally advanced the cause of M-L unity. The ATM-IWK merger, the RCL merger, the CoRES-LPR merger, the RWH-BACU merger have had a positive effect. Why does LRS view with such alarm current unity talks between CPML, RWH and others?

Speaking for the CPML, we will not engage in any unprincipled blocs against LRS or other M-L organizations. We are holding no secret discussions. The unity process we are in with RWH has been long disclosed to LRS and remains open for them and others.

LRS has chosen not to participate and has put forth their own proposal. This is their right and we are eager to find ways to overcome the differences that exist. In that spirit, we welcome the LRS proposal.

We see no reason for efforts to unite some M-Ls to cause a split with others. We hope that at a minimum, current unity efforts can increase the working unity between cadre of CPML, RWH, LRS and others and that the next few years will see organizational unity of all Marxist-Leninists.