Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Robert Morgan

Response to Jim Hamilton of the CPML

First Published: Unity, Vol. 4, No. 5, March 20-April 2, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The February 1981 issue of The Call published by the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CPML) carried an article entitled “Message to the Movement.” The article, written by Jim Hamilton, a member of the CPML, assesses the state of the CPML and the left today.

This article contained a number of major points and raised many questions and it deserves serious attention by revolutionaries in the U.S.

The article (as well as some others recently carried in The Call) reveals some of the serious problems facing the CPML and some of the questions it is grappling with.

It is my belief that the crisis of the CPML is a setback for the CPML as well as for the entire U.S. revolutionary movement. While the organization 1 am a member of, the U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L), and the CPML have had differences in the past and engaged in some sharp struggles, we have always considered the CPML a Marxist-Leninist organization and one that made contributions to the struggle for socialism in the U.S.

The League has always tried to conduct its relations with the CPML on principle and with respect to its organizational integrity. I am offering these comments in the hope that they may contribute to the task of pulling together and stabilizing the CPML.

In light of these comments I believe, though, that the Jim Hamilton article does not contribute to solving the problems of the CPML and to affirming its responsibility to the proletariat of the U.S. The article creates more confusion than clarity. It is general, one-sided, and engages in abstract questioning, despite its repeated calls for concreteness.

Questions revolutionary truths and lessons

In trying to address the problem of why the CPML’s mass work has not “caught on,” the article calls into question fundamental tenets of the revolutionary movement, including the validity of socialism, the vanguard party and the relevance of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought itself. The Hamilton article also omits any mention of the many important lessons and truths the communist movement in the U.S. has gained over the past decade through its own hard-fought experience, such as the need for the strategic alliance of the working class and oppressed nationality movements, the necessity to prepare for violent revolutionary struggle, and others. These truths are basic principles of our revolution, and adhering to them is not “doctrinairism,” but proceeding from the lessons gained from actual practice in this country.

The Hamilton article uses the banner of “anti-leftism” and “anti-doctrinairism” to question these basic truths, but in knocking down or questioning these truths, he offers no alternative path to advance. This is not a concrete and materialist way to rectify errors. Rather, this raises “anti-leftism” as a new dogma.

Marxists should be concrete. To blanketly condemn or question much that we have stood for in the past without actually presenting any other solutions only fosters more cynicism and confusion. We should be open-minded and self-critical to improve our work, not to negate it.

In this situation of questioning everything and viewing the past negatively without offering any concrete guidance, correct things can be abandoned and weakened, and the situation is opened for all sorts of erroneous and even more damaging ideas to take hold.

Need all-sided summation

What then should be a more constructive way of examining the history of the CPML arid the source of its problems?

Most importantly, it is necessary to view the line and work of the CPML more dialectically, in its positive as well as its negative aspects. The Hamilton article is subjective as it is one-sidedly critical of the CPML. Many of its characterizations of the errors in CPML’s line and practice are too simplistic and some of them, in my opinion are not correct.

It is my view that the CPML helped build the communist movement in the U.S. It opposed revisionism and Trotskyism. It opposed the serious deviations and opportunism of groups such as the Revolutionary Union/RCP, Communist League/CLP, Workers Viewpoint/CWP, and the centrists. For example, the CPML upheld the existence of the Afro-American nation in the South, in contrast to the RU’s chauvinist “theory” of the “nation of a new type.” The CPML opposed Soviet social-imperialism and upheld the theory of three worlds.

The struggle against opportunism is an integral part of precisely that task that Hamilton emphasizes: the integration of Marxism with the conditions of the revolution in this country. In the early stages of any revolution, the revolutionary forces often have to spend a great deal of time and energy (and in retrospect it may seem like an inordinate amount of time) dealing with opposing trends. But this task is absolutely necessary if the revolutionary forces are to develop along a correct path.

To be sure, there were many serious weaknesses and errors in the positions and policies the CPML advanced. For example, the CPML made chauvinist errors, undercutting the right of self-determination for the Black nation by opposing the choice of secession, as well as making errors of liberal integrationism. At times, too, the CPML made a mechanical application of the three worlds theory, leading it to incorrect views such as its view that the two superpowers should get out of Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony. But my point here is that the CPML generally upheld Marxism-Leninism and made contributions in the struggle against opportunism in the U.S. Jim Hamilton seems to have forgotten or else belittles this today.

Hamilton’s list of the CPML’s errors is woefully onesided. Take just one example. As far as I know, the CPML never had a position that “mass organizing is inferior to revolutionary education.” Even if aspects of this erroneous view existed in the CPML, the point should still be made that the CPML made a contribution in developing The Call and organizing its distribution on a nationwide basis.

The Hamilton article justifies this wholesale belittlement and discarding of CPML’s past history by saying the entire international communist movement is doing the same thing. But this is not true. Take just the U.S. movement. Clearly the League does not view its own past in this way. The League has summarized dialectically the history of its predecessor organizations in the early and mid-1970’s, affirming their overall positive contributions and criticizing the errors. And though obviously the League disagrees, the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters upholds the early history of the Revolutionary Union (its predecessor) as positive and correct. In a 1979 statement from the RWH which included a general evaluation of their history, it says, “the early RU played a leading and generally correct role in helping to cut a path to the fusion of the socialist movement and the workers and other mass movements. It displayed a fairly sound appreciation of the difficulties involved in forging a multinational vanguard rooted among the masses.” (From Statement on the merger of the BACU into the RWH, by the Central Committee of the RWH.) I believe Amiri Baraka’s article in this issue of UNITY reveals how outrageous that statement is.

Hamilton’s blanket analysis of how the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement sees itself is not accurate.

Subjectivism and instability

If Hamilton’s analysis is wrong, what then “were the errors of the CPML and why has the CPML developed to where it is at today?

I cannot fully answer these questions, as ultimately the CPML itself will have to sort out these matters. But from my own experience and knowledge of the CPML, I do have some opinions.

In my view, ideologically, the errors of the CPML came not so much from doctrinairism, but from a one-sidedness that viewed the world not objectively, but subjectively, from the CPML’s own limited experiences and plans. This led the CPML to at times engage in self-glorifications and get-rich-quick schemes, and thus to have expectations completely out of line with reality. But when these expectations did not materialize, especially over the last several years, a mood of demoralization set in and laid the basis for views such as expressed in the Hamilton article.

This one-sidedness, even self-centeredness, led the CPML to make political and tactical errors of both a right and “left” nature, since it bounded from overestimating its strength and abilities to justifying any tactic as long as it advanced the work of the CPML.

I think the very way the current debate is being argued in the CPML is testimony to the existence of this subjectivism and shows that the CPML has not tackled this problem. The Hamilton article, for instance, is pretentious in making pronouncements about not only the U.S. revolutionary movement, but the entire international communist movement today. Hamilton mistakenly judges the world revolutionary movement from the standpoint of the particular crisis of the CPML. He raises by innuendo that the writings of Mao Zedong are not applicable to advanced capitalist countries, not by giving any real evidence or by examining the content of some of Mao’s writings, but by simply pointing to the problems in the CPML’s own efforts.

I believe the CPML’s outlook has also been characterized by instability. Over the past ten years that I’ve had contact with the CPML (and before it, the October League), I’ve seen the CPML flipflop a number of times on major questions. On the question of whether right or “left” deviation is the main danger in the communist movement in the U.S., I’ve seen the CPML take a different position every two or three years, but without any explanations of why it changed its position. The OL/CPML’s trade union line has gone from condemning involvement in the economic struggle as “bowing to spontaneity” in the early 1970’s, to “moving the trade unions to the left” in the mid-1970’s, to “directing the main blow at the reformists” in the later 1970’s, to its current position of restricting all its work to within the established trade union bureaucracies.

This instability is a serious ideological weakness and betrays a tendency to want to “get rich quick” through whatever means appear most advantageous at the moment. While Marxists naturally want to gain influence as quickly as possible, this can only be done by developing a sound political line and adopting a persistent, down to earth work style. Having lines and policies change from year to year, without apparent reason or adequate and all-sided summation, does not help in rooting communists among the masses.

These are not all the errors of the CPML, nor does this exhaust the League’s past and present criticisms of and differences with the CPML. But these ideological weaknesses appear to me to be the most serious at this time in contributing to CPML’s crisis.

Application of Marxism

In conclusion, I’d like to make a comment on Jim Hamilton’s point about making a new and “creative” application of Marxism to the conditions of the U.S.

Hamilton is correct when he points out that the revolution requires “developing new applications of Marxism.” Marxism is not a dogma, but is a living science that is enriched and further developed as the proletariat utilizes it to guide its struggle.

Marxism is the concentrated form of the experiences of millions of people in trying to transform human society and the world. Marxism is based on concrete practice and we should always appreciate the valuable lessons summarized in Marxist literature, while at the same time employing its stand, viewpoint and method to solve further problems in the revolution. Marxism, understood in its entirety, includes universal lessons and principles, as well as provides us with an outlook of how to solve the limitless issues and obstacles to achieving the era of world communism.

To negate any of these aspects of Marxism is to abandon Marxism itself by making it into a staid dogma or something one only gives lipservice to.

The anti-revisionist movement in the U.S. has, on the whole, tried to creatively apply Marxism to the actual conditions of the U.S. over this past decade. It has had some successes and some failures and certainly much more needs to be done in this direction. We are still trying to grapple with the problems of how to develop the strategic alliance in the U.S., how to deal with making the socialist revolution in the homeland of one of the two imperialist superpowers of the world, how to deal with the existence of a relatively large and influential labor aristocracy, how to build communism in the midst of widespread illusions of bourgeois democracy among certain sectors of the population, how to apply democratic centralism, etc.

But we would be wrong to think that we have not done any work in applying Marxism to our conditions; nor are we beginning from scratch. There is a wealth of our own direct experience alone to draw from in this regard. The CPML can make a contribution in this area by summarizing some of its past work more concretely and comprehensively.