Nina Perri and D. Stover

Why Building the Party is the Principle Task

First Published: Canadian Revolution, No. 1, May 1975
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.

I. Introduction

Prime Minister Trudeau recently announced that in the period 1968-1973, Canada had more and longer strikes than any other country in the world except Italy. This fact horrified the leader of the Canadian bourgeois dictatorship but it is welcomed by Marxist-Leninists as a great indication of the growing struggle of the working class in Canada.[1]

Lenin’s summation in 1902 of a similar period in Russian history can be applied verbatim to the present situation in Canada with respect to the revolutionary movement.

The strength of the present-day movement lies in the awakening of the masses (principally the industrial proletariat), and ... its weakness lies in the lack of consciousness and initiative among the revolutionary leaders. (What Is To Be Done, Peking ed., p. 34.)

The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses, the more widespread the movement becomes, so much the more rapidly, incomparably more rapidly, grows the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organizational work of Social-Democracy. (Ibid., p. 64.)

So far in Canada this leadership has not been provided. It is understandable that historically discredited movements such as revisionism and Trotskyism have not acquired an opportunist hold on the working class movement, but it is less understandable that the followers of Marxism-Leninism, the science of proletarian struggle, have not provided scientific leadership to the Canadian working class. It is necessary to examine some of the reasons for this failure on the part of Canadian Marxist-Leninists.

II. Economism: Its Sources and Its Nature

By far the most of those who now call themselves Marxist-Leninists came out of the radical student milieu of the 1960’s. They are almost entirely of petit-bourgeois origin. Many of them had gravitated to the anti-working class, terrorist lines made popular by such groups as the Weathermen. In Canada such lines took shape in the form of organizations such as Red Morning in Toronto.

In horror of their own adventurist image, revolutionists came to embrace Marxism-Leninism. For all too many, however, this change did not involve a thorough study of the theory and historical practice of the world revolutionary movement. Instead, just as Lenin had observed in Russia, “people have appeared among us who kneel in prayer to spontaneity, gazing with awe . .. upon the posteriors of the . . . proletariat.” (Ibid., P. 132.) To absolve themselves of liberal guilt feelings, they sacrifice their petit-bourgeois life to go among the working class; in fact, some of these people are quite explicit that they consider this process a personal sacrifice for the sake of the revolution. They did not see this as a form of petit-bourgeois Christianity and saw even less that the workers were not in the market for it. And so, they went into the workplace, looking for the working class everywhere but finding it nowhere. That is, while finding a class “in itself,” they did not find a class which was yet “for itself” while finding a class whose members engaged in occasional spontaneous outbreaks of battle against the bourgeoisie, they did not find a class yet engaging in class struggle. This

“’spontaneous element,’ in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, but not yet Social-Democratic struggles. (Ibid., p. 36.)”

“We shall never be able to develop the political consciousness of the workers ... by keeping within the framework of the economic struggle, for that framework is too narrow.” (Ibid., p. 97.) (emphasis added)

Rather than consulting the rich literature of Marxism-Leninism to find out how to remedy this situation, these Marxist-Leninists chose to worship this spontaneity, to cultivate it, and to advance it to the level of theory itself. Lenin called such politics “Economism.”

The “fundamental error” of the Economists lies in

“their conviction that it is possible to develop the class political consciousness of the workers from within, so to speak, their economic struggle, i.e., making this struggle the exclusive (or, at least, the main) starting point, making it the exclusive (or, at least, the main) basis. Such a view is fundamentally wrong.”

“Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside of the economic struggle, from outside of the sphere of relations between the workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships between all classes. For that reason, the reply to the question as to what must be done to bring political knowledge to the workers cannot be merely the answer with which, in the majority of cases, the practical workers, especially those inclined towards Economism, mostly content themselves, namely:’To go among the workers’.”

It is clear, that today’s economists have not turned to Lenin to understand the source of their problems, or to understand why their efforts and sacrifices have only led to reformism and trade union politics in the workplace. Since their politics clearly do not come from a study of Lenin, we must ask ourselves where they come from. We conclude that there are two primary sources of the economism that plagues our movement.

The first of these is the terrorist movement from which these petit-bourgeois revolutionists emerged. According to Lenin “...there is not an accidental, but a necessary, inherent connection between the two” (i.e., economism and terrorism). (Ibid., p. 92.)

The Economists and the terrorists merely bow to different poles of spontaneity. The Economists bow to the spontaneity of the ’pure’ working-class movement, while the terrorists bow to the passionate indignation of intellectuals, who lack the ability or the opportunity to link up the revolutionary struggle with the working-class movement, to form an integral whole.”(Ibid., p. 93.)

And so it is not difficult to see with what ease these people jump from one pole to another. This has a devastating effect on the movement because “both the terrorists and the Economists underestimate the revolutionary activity of the masses.” (Ibid., p. 96.) And, as if pouring salt on a wound, “both fail to devote sufficient attention to the development of their own activity in political agitation and in organization of political exposures. And no other work can serve as a substitute for this work either at the present time or at any other time.” (Ibid., p. 96. Last emphasis added.)

To understand the second source of economism in our midst is to understand the very essence of Marxism. “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.) We have seen this in the relationship between economism, terrorism, and the petit-bourgeois origin of those who have practiced both; more importantly, however, we can see this principle operating in the relationship of the economists to the working class.

As Lenin says,

“. . . There could not yet be Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It could only be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.” (What Is To Be Done, p. 37.) It should therefore come as no surprise that these petit-bourgeois revolutionists, who came to the working class with nothing but their “worship of spontaneity” and their underestimation of the “revolutionary activity of the masses”, would develop “trade union consciousness”; i.e., economism, a form of bourgeois ideology. “The only choice is ’ either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course.” (Ibid., p. 48.) We hear so much from the economists about “practice” (more on this later), and so we say to them: One has only to look at your “practice” to find the source of your errors.

What is most bothersome, perhaps, about these people is that pointing out Lenin’s positions on economism to them tends to have little or no influence on their politics. As often as not they cling to their line about “close organic contact with the proletarian struggle” (see Ibid., p. 110) no matter how much the literature of Marxism-Leninism disagrees with it. As a matter of fact, if you continue to cite Lenin extensively in order to show that your position is not taken out of context and is in fact the essence of Leninism, you are likely to be criticized for relying too much on quotations![2] This tendency on the part of Economists brings into question their sincerity about being Marxist-Leninists – a painful thought, but true. For if they were sincere Marxist-Leninists, they would change their line upon reading, say, What Is To Be Done; yet as often as not they are too busy in their “close organic contact with the proletarian struggle” to do much reading, and what they do read they either misunderstand or distort. In opposition to this anti-theoretical and anti-intellectual bias of economism, we will now proceed to deal with several burning issues of our movement, and will draw heavily from Lenin and Mao in doing so. The first issue: What is class consciousness? What is class struggle?

III. What is Class Consciousness? What is Class Struggle?

The major issue dividing Lenin from the Economists – and the major issue dividing the writers from today’s economists – is the issue of class consciousness and class struggle. What are they, where do they come from, how can they be advanced, and for what purpose?

Class consciousness is the self-knowledge of the working class as a class “for itself”. It is the knowledge of its historic role and the necessity for carrying it out. It is not the consciousness of hating capitalism, or the consciousness of engaging in strikes for higher wages or better working conditions. These things are trade union consciousness,

“i.e., the common striving of all workers to secure from the government measures for the alleviation of the distress characteristic of their position but which do not abolish that position, i.e., which do not remove the subjection of labour to capital.” (Ibid., p. 52.)

Lenin defines class struggles as follows.

“We are all agreed that our task is that of the organization of proletarian class struggle. But what is this class struggle? When the workers of a single factory or of a single branch of industry engage in struggle against their employer or employers, is this class struggle? No, this is only a weak embryo of it. The struggle of the workers becomes a class struggle only when all the foremost representatives of the entire working class of the whole country are conscious of themselves as a single working class and launch a struggle that is directed, not against individual employers, but against the entire class of capitalists and against the government that supports that class. Only when the individual worker realizes that he is a member of the entire working class, only when he recognizes the fact that his petty day-to-day struggle against individual employers and individual government officials is a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the entire government, does his struggle become a class struggle. ’Every class struggle is a political struggle’ – these famous words of Marx are not to be understood to mean that any struggle of workers against employers must always be a political struggle. They must be understood to mean that the struggle of the workers against the capitalists inevitably becomes a political struggle insofar as it becomes a class struggle.” (Our Immediate Task, CW 4:216.)

Lenin explains the process by which class consciousness develops.

“The separation of the working-class movement and socialism gave rise to weakness and underdevelopment in each: the theories of the socialists, unfused with the workers’ struggles, remained nothing more than Utopias, good wishes that had no effect on real life; the working-class movement remained petty, fragmented, and did not acquire political significance, was not enlightened by the advanced science of its time. For this reason we see in all European countries a constantly growing urge to fuse socialism with the working-class movement in a single Social-Democratic movement. When this fusion takes place the class struggle of the workers becomes the conscious struggle of the proletariat.” (A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy, CW 4:257.)

How, then, is this fusion accomplished? If one looks at the history of Marxism it is easy to see that it was not accomplished simply by the writings of petit-bourgeois intellectuals like Marx and Engels. Their theoretical writings have been of immeasurable significance to the world’s working people, but not because they appeared in books.

By directing socialism towards a fusion with the working-class movement, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did their greatest service: they created a revolutionary theory that explained the necessity for this fusion and gave socialists the task of organizing the class struggle of the proletariat. (A Retrograde Trend In Russian Social-Democracy, CW 4:157-258.)

Lenin did his “greatest service” by creating a theory of how to accomplish this “fusion” and how to organize the class struggle of the proletariat. Although his theory, the very essence of Leninism, has many aspects, we feel the following best expresses the essence of it.

“It is the task of Social-Democrats, by organizing the workers, by conducting propaganda and agitation among them, to turn their spontaneous struggle against their oppressors into the struggle of the whole class, into the struggle of a definite political party for definite political and socialist ideals. This is something that cannot be achieved by local activity alone.” (Our Immediate Task, CW 4:2J6-217.)

Note that Lenin does not see the Party as being formed out of the struggles in the workplace, by the most advanced leaders of workplace struggles. It may strike the economists as dreadfully ultra-leftist, but according to Lenin the Communist party is formed by polemical and theoretical struggle among the most advanced elements of the socialist movement and by the establishment of a central post for all elements of the movement.

“To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats; such unit cannot be decreed. . . . Secondly, we must work to achieve an organization especially for the purpose of establishing and maintaining contact among all the centres of the movement.” (Draft Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya, CW 4:323-4.)

This is why Lenin says that “the principal task for all Russian socialists and all class-conscious Russian workers is to strengthen this fusion, consolidate and organize the Social-Democratic Labour Party.” (A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy CW 4:258.)

In light of all this evidence, it is clearly incorrect to maintain that building the class-consciousness of the workers is a primary task to which the building of a Party can be subordinated. Yet some “Marxist-Leninists” persist in defining workplace struggles as the primary task at this time, and they are chagrined by suggestions that any attempts to build class consciousness in the absence of a communist organization will fail. Those who suggest this are quickly tagged “ultra-leftists.” We accept the compliment, for Lenin was in this “ultra-left” camp as well.

“Without such organization the proletariat will never rise to the class-conscious struggle; without such organization the working-class movement is doomed to impotency.” (The Urgent Tasks Of Our Movement, CW 4:370.)

Others slither and slide between the one position and the other, and instead of learning from Lenin that the Party is the necessary condition for a class-conscious proletarian struggle and hence is primary, they choose to avoid the issue of primary task altogether. In this way, they can keep the best of both worlds, Leninism and economism, in their politics.

Seen in this light, it is easier to understand why some comrades insist that economism is not a problem among Marxist-Leninists and that the chief danger comes from the ultra-left. Actually, the chief danger to economism is Leninism, but this should not surprise anybody. Leninism has always played this role.

IV. Two Strains of Economism

There are essentially two strains of economism in our midst. Historically, the first of these was that of liquidating the question of the Party altogether, except for occasional lip service. This position is so anti-Leninist and historically bankrupt that it is understandable that it is fading among those who consider themselves Marxist-Leninists.

The second strain, adapting to Leninist challenges like a flu virus to immunizations, is the theory that revolutionary consciousness is built in stages, with class consciousness coming before revolutionary socialist consciousness. Lenin rejects this “stages” theory in several instances (see CW 5:229, 317, 318). A corollary of the “stages” theory invariably holds that the Marxist-Leninist party should be at the service of the working class. Lenin disagrees with this as well.

Social-Democracy is not confined to simple service to the working-class movement: it represents ’the combination of socialism and the working-class movement’ the task of Social-Democracy is to bring definite socialist ideas to the spontaneous working-class movement, to connect this movement with socialist convictions that should attain the level of contemporary science ... in a word, to fuse this spontaneous movement into one indestructible whole with the activity of the revolutionary party.” (Our Immediate Task, CW 4:217.)

These economists elevate the practical needs of the working class to the level of strategy and hence fail to understand that, in fusing socialism with the working class movement, and in mobilizing the working class for socialist revolution, Marxism-Leninism is rendering the highest form of service to the working class. Here is Lenin’s view on the relationship between the economic struggle and the Party:

“For the socialist, the economic struggle serves as a basis for the organization of the workers into a revolutionary party, for the strengthening and development of their class struggle against the whole capitalist system. If the economic struggle is taken as something complete in itself there will be nothing socialist in it.” (Apropos of the Profession de Foi," CW 4:293.)

This second strain of economism, because of its more tenacious ability to slip and slide in and out of Leninism, is the far more dangerous strain because it can lead to the development of revisionist parties. For example, Jette (Dialectics of the Canadian Revolution) says:

“Which struggles will raise class consciousness when led by communists? The criterion for a struggle’s being progressive is not whether it explicitly challenges the capitalist system as a system, but whether it unifies the people and attempts to place some control of their lives in their own hands. Direct confrontation with the state is not necessary or usually useful.” (p. 5.)

Lenin answers:

“. . . Liberalism, when the workers’ movement has somewhat gained in strength, no longer dares to deny the class struggle, but tries to narrow, clip, castrate the concept of class struggle. Liberalism is ready to recognize the class struggle in the sphere of politics but on the one condition that it does not include the structure of state power. It is not hard to understand what class interests the bourgeoisie give rise to this liberal distortion of the concept of class struggle.” (Liberal and Marxist Conceptions of Class Struggle, CW 19:122.)

The “stages” theory, then, adds another stage to the struggle, by postponing the mention of the dictatorship of the proletariat until the masses are ready to handle it. Of this, our favorite “ultra-leftist” says:

“Those who recognize only the class struggle are not yet Marxists; they may be found to be still within the boundaries of bourgeois thinking and bourgeois politics. To confine Marxism to the doctrine of class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something which is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. . . . This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism is to be tested.” (The State and Revolution)

Lenin criticizes

“. . . those who restrict the content and scope of political propaganda, agitation, and organization; who think it fit and proper to treat the workers to ’politics’ only at exceptional moments in their lives, only on festive occasions; who too solicitously substitute demands for partial concessions from the bourgeoisie for the political struggle against the bourgeoisie; and who do not go to sufficient lengths to ensure that these demands for partial concessions are raised to the status of a systematic, implacable struggle of a revolutionary, working-class party against the bourgeoisie. (The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement, CW 4:369.)

In sum, Lenin saw theories such as Jette’s as follows:

“’The movement is everything, the final aim is nothing’ – this catchphrase of Bernstein’s expresses the substance of revisionism better than many long arguments.” (Marxism and Revisionism CW 15:37.)

V. Workplace Practice: the Test of Theory?

Lenin criticizes the economists for elevating the narrowest forms of practical activity to the level of theory. A common example of this is the belief of present-day economists that one cannot be a true Marxist-Leninist if one does not have a working-class job. Sometimes this belief is merely implicit, but other groups advance it as a rigorous and explicit working definition. In doing so, they offer one more example of their ignorance of the history of the world proletarian movement.

Having read extensively into the biographical material available on Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, we have not encountered any evidence whatsoever that these great Marxist-Leninists ever worked at a working-class job. Certainly nowhere can it be found in their writings that to become a Marxist-Leninist, let alone a leader of the revolution, one must work at a working-class job. Many of the other leaders of the Bolshevik and Chinese Communist Parties as well never implanted themselves in the workplace where they did work, they generally did so to survive. As for our favorite “ultra-leftist” Lenin, his initial organizing efforts among the working class did not consist in working at a job, but rather in reading sections of Capital at workers’ meetings (the “once a week” syndrome so sharply criticized by economists) and raising workers’ consciousness of their historical mission, i.e., establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Who, then, are the real Marxist-Leninists: our great above-mentioned leaders, or our present-day economists?

Lenin explained that one reason socialist consciousness comes from outside the sphere of employer-employee relations is that “workers have to work in the factory as if on a chaingang, and neither time nor possibility remains for them to become socialists.” (As quoted in A.G. Meyer, Leninism, Praeger 1972:30.) Although this is less true today, in view of working-class victories to reduce working hours, still workers’ access to and time to study scientific material is curtailed. Perhaps this is one reason why people of the economist tendency exhibit such unfamiliarity with the literature of the world revolution. In any event, Lenin makes it crystal clear that if workers do participate in the development of socialist ideology, it is “not as workers, but as socialist theoreticiaans.” (What Is To Be Done, p. 48n.)

To defend their position, economists turn to one word above all others: “Practice.” It is in the name of “practice” that their politics are held to be more correct than volumes of “ultra-left” book-learning. They argue that since theory is useless when not tested in practice, therefore the development of political theory or line can only lead to “lifeless dogma” if it is not developed by people who are working in the workplace. We can see here that to these people “practice” is used synonymously with “working-class job.” Our next task, then, is to examine concretely what is meant by the dialectical relationship between theory and practice and what it means to test a theory in practice. We will see that basic misconceptions of these concepts have been seriously misleading the politics of many Marxist-Leninists.

The Marxist theory of knowledge, as set forth by Marx (Thesis on Feuerbach), Engels (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific; Anti-Duhring), Lenin (Materialism and Empirio-Criticism), Stalin (Foundations of Leninism), and Mao (On Practice)[3], holds that practice and practice alone is the test of theory. It is this relationship between theory and practice which distinguishes materialism from bourgeois idealism. “Many theories are erroneous and it is through the test of practice that their errors are corrected.” (Mao, On Practice, SW 1:300.) The following, then, is the path by which a person can come to know a thing directly.

If you want to know a certain thing or a certain class of things directly, you must personally participate in the practical struggle to change reality, to change that thing or class of things, for only thus can you come into contact with them as phenomena; only through personal participation in the practical struggle to change reality can you uncover the essence of that thing or class of things and comprehend them. (Ibid., pp. 299-300.) (Emphasis added.)

Direct experience, then, is, ultimately the source of all knowledge: “All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” (Ibid., p. 300.) However, “One cannot have direct experience of everything; as a matter of fact, most of our knowledge comes from indirect experience, for example, all knowledge from past times and foreign lands.” (Ibid., p. 300.) (Emphasis added.)

“The realm of practical activity is extremely wide, but the scope of an individual’s practice is always limited. While we attach importance to direct experience gained from personal practice, we should also treasure the creations of the masses, be good at making investigations and study, and learn with an open mind from other people’s experience. Only thus can we do our work well. . . . One cannot have direct experience in everything. Actually most knowledge comes from indirect experience. If anyone believes only in himself and sets his personal experience against the masses’ and direct experience against indirect, he will also commit empiricist errors. . . . Because those people with empiricism neglect the guiding role of Marxism in revolutionary practice, pay no attention to studying revolutionary theory ... are intoxicated with narrow, non-principled ’practicalism’ and with being brainless ’practical men’ with no future, and lack firm and correct political orientation, they are easy ideological captives of political swindlers who are sham Marxists.” (Overcoming Empiricism, Peking Review, no. 43 (27 October 1972, pp. 6-7.)

What are the consequences of this position? If practice were to consist only or primarily in direct experience, and if a correct line about a given situation in the world cannot be evolved except through direct experience, then one could not evolve a correct line on the Native struggle without “practising” on a reserve, on Third World struggles without “practising” in Angola or in Viet Nam, etc. Such would be the logical conclusions of narrow empiricism. If we could not learn from the practice of others – which, although some economists may shirk, means developing a line from reading books – then our movement would lose its firm scientific foundation and its life would come to and end.

It is basic to the Marxist concept of testing a theory in practice that the content of the theory must have a direct relationship to the content of the practice. For example, the subjective idealist might ask, “How do I know that that table in the middle of the room is really there?” The Marxist will reply, “Try walking through it and see what happens to you.” When the person bumps into the table and finds that s/he cannot walk through it, then her/his theory has been disproved in practice and s/he learns that, in fact, the table is really there. This is an example of simple scientific experiment, one of the three types of social practice (the other two, according to Mao, being material production and class struggle). This is an example of testing a theory in practice.

Now contrast the popular but incorrect conception of testing a theory in practice. “How do I know that that table in the middle of the room is really there?” “Well, I asked a worker at my plant about it the other day, and he saw it too, so that verifies the theory that the table is really there.” Absurd? Yet this is the meaning which many Marxist-Leninists – top-heavily those of the economist tendency – give to the conception of testing a theory in practice.

To apply this philosophy to the concrete situation in Canada, we can see that a person who is working in a factory is thereby testing a theory s/he may have about factory work. It is also agreed that a person who is engaged in trade union struggle may be testing a line on her/his trade union or perhaps even about trade unions in general. Unfortunately, many Marxist-Leninists think that their work in factories or in unions tests any and every kind of theory which may come into their heads.

For example, you will hear economists tell you that they are testing their line on Cuba in practice. How are they doing so? By studying the concrete facts about Cuba and seeing if those facts support the theory, or by seeing if the theory systematizes and explains those facts? No! They will tell you that they have talked to workers at their workplace about Cuba and “tested” how those workers reacted to what they said. It is agreed that such practice may test your technique of communicating with people about Cuba, but it does not test your theory on Cuba. To consult workers in Canada about your theory on Cuba is to remain in the realm of theory. Not that this is wrong! It is always helpful to discuss your theory with other people. But, by talking to a relatively uninformed worker rather than an informed Marxist-Leninist, theory is not transformed into practice.

This economist conception is an excellent example of what Lenin called “contemplating the posteriors of the proletariat.” If workers in one plant like your line on Cuba but workers in another plant dislike it, does your line change?

“A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses, not to reflect the average state of mind of the masses.” (Lenin, Speech on the Agrarian Question, Delivered at the Extraordinary All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, CW 26:324.)

“If the criterion of activity were that which is immediately, directly, and to the greatest degree accessible to the broadest masses, we should have to preach anti-Semitism, or to agitate, let us say, on the basis of an appeal to Father Johann of Kronstadt.” (Apropos of the Profession de Foi, CW 4:291.)

It might be added that if working class support in and of itself were a reliable test of a party’s line, then the N.D.P. [New Democratic Party – MIA Note] and the Communist Party of Canada would, at the present time, have it all over Marxism-Leninism.

This incorrect understanding of what it means to test a theory in practice reveals a sense of distance and even contempt which certain Marxist-Leninists continue to feel for the working class with whom they claim to be so closely in contact. If you talk to a comrade about Cuba, it is theory; but if you talk to a machine operator abour Cuba, it becomes practice. Real dialectical materialism! This error is also used to justify a left deviation as well as the right deviations of which we have been speaking. We will argue later that a complete line on Canada cannot be properly tested in practice without a Party, and hence is meaning less as a thing in itself. Yet some comrades insist that a line has meaning of itself without organization, and think that they are tetting it in practice because, as individuals or tiny groups, they are consulting fellow workers about their theories and revising them in response to the workers’ suggestions. They fail to see that, even if your co-conversant is a real, live, lunch-bucket worker, your consultation with him is theory and not practice. In sum: theory istested in practice by implementing the consequences of that theory and studying the results of that implementation. Neither economism nor the organization-less “proletarian line” is capable of testing theories in practice except on a very limited scale.

We have now advanced the ironical conception that the workplace can be the site of pure theoretical work, whereas one’s lonely study can be the site of genuine scientific practice. Needless to say, the reverse can be equally true. What differentiates theory from practice is not the physical situation in which it takes place. Both study and workplace work have specific functions for Marxist-Leninists, but not because the one represents theory and the other represents practice.

It follows that a major justification which economists advance to defend their reactionary politics is really no justification at all. We think that these economists use the fact that they work in the workplace in order to hide their politics, which are generally opportunist, vacillating, reformist, and ill-supported by theory of any strain. However, it is true, as noted earlier, that one’s line about the workplace can be tested in the workplace can be tested in the workplace. The economists have tested a theory in practice: the theory of spontaneity, of two-stage consciousness, of building class consciousness without a party. What was their method? Trying to organize fellow workers to class consciousness. What was the result of this scientific experiment? “Trade union consciousness,” i.e., the complete failure of their theory. Those who are honest Marxist-Leninists will understand this, criticize their past errors, and change their theory.

It is not that the past several years in the workplace have been a totally fruitless waste of time for economists. For one thing, it has made many Marxist-Leninists aware of what it is like to be a part of the working class, and has therefore been a positive step toward the development of their proletarian outlook on an individual level. There have been other benefits as well.– C.M.O. [Cellue militante ouvriere – MIA Note] , one of the Quebecois Marxist-Leninist organizations, sees the value of workplace practice at this time thus: “Although this work is slackened by the absence of a Marxist-Leninist organization, which alone can furnish a clear orientation and coordination, we think that the experience thus acquired is important for the formation of true communist militant and the beginning of contacts with the masses, contacts which will be able to be developed more deeply by the organization once it is constituted.” (pour l’unification des marxistes-leninistes, pp. 31-32. Our own translation.) We agree with this formulation.

However, it should be remembered that implantation is not a theory in itself; it is a specific historical tactic, and its relationship to the Marxist-Leninist movement as a whole must be kept clearly in mind at all times. We would also add that the implantation of the modern economists at this time has objectively retarded the struggle insofar as it has limited their theoretical development and this has led to errors in their political line and in their conception of the principal task. In failing to read and thoroughly understand, say, What Is To Be Done, they have not affirmed the role of practice; on the contrary, they have negated the role of practice by failing to learn from the practice of others. Lenin and Engels have a great deal to say on this subject.

These people who cannot pronounce the world “theoretician” without a contemptuous grimace, who describe their genuflections to common lack of training and backwardness as “a sense for the realities of life,” reveal in practice a failure to understand our most imperative practical tasks. (Lenin, What is To Be Done, p. 130.)

“It will be the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook and constantly to keep on mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e., that it be studied. . .” Engels, as quoted in ibid., pp. 31-32.)

Engels recognizes not two forms of the great struggle of Social-Democracy (political and economic),as is the fashion among us, but three, placing on a par with the first two the theoretical struggle. (Ibid., pp. 29-30.)

V. How is a line on Canada tested in practice?

The relationship between theory and practice in Canada assumes its most important form in the question which is seldom addressed. That question is: How to put a political line on the character of the Canadian Revolution, a line that is based on Marxist-Leninist theory, to the test of practice in the concrete conditions of Canada? This, and not economism, is the more important form of practice. We formulate the answer as follows:
1. Study what Marxism-Leninism is as a theory.
2. Study the successes and failures this theory has had in practice.
3. Rooted firmly in this theory, proceed to analyze the concrete conditions of Canada.
4. From this analysis, advance a line on the nature of the principal contradiction in Canada. (For the importance of this see Mao, On Contradiction.) 5. Analyze the dialectical relationship between the principal contradiction in Canada and the principal contradiction in the world. This is a particularly important step since the advent of imperialism.
6. From the analysis of the principal contradiction, formulate a strategy.[4]
7. Then formulate tactics that will implement that strategy.

“The object of strategy is to win the war . . . against the bourgeoisie, to carry through the struggle . . . against the bourgeoisie to its end; tactics pursue less important objects, for their aim is not the winning of the war as a whole, but the winning of some particular engagements or some particular battles.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 86.)

We hold that it is in the winning of the battles, first on a tactical level and then on a strategic level, that we will find out if our political line on Canada is correct. It is in this way that the theory is tested in practice. If the theory is incorrect the error will first show up on the tactical level and Marxist-Leninists will have to engage in a process of analyzing why failure is occurring and work will have to be rectified. The cause of the failure could be at any level of the process and adjustments will constantly have to be made accordingly.

VI. The Lessons From Mao’s On Practice

The understanding of the relationship between theory and practice which we are putting forward in this article is radically different from that generally put forward by Marxist-Leninists in Canada. It would therefore be profitable at this time to consider the key theoretical article on this subject: Mao’s On Practice.

“Marxists hold that man’s social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world. What actually happens is that man’s knowledge is verified only when he achieves the anticipated results in the process of social practice (material production, class struggle or scientific experiment). If a man wants to succeed in his work, that is, to achieve the anticipated results, he must bring his ideas into correspondence with the laws of the objective external world; if they do not correspond, he will fail in his practice. After he fails, he draws his lessons, corrects his ideas to make them correspond to the laws of the external world, and can thus turn failure into success.” (Mao, On Practice, SW 1:296-297.) (emphasis added)

Note that Mao refers to three aspects of social practice. The first, material production, would at the first glance seem to be an aspects of social practice which is meaningful to those who work in the workplace. Yet a closer examination will reveal that whereas workers participate in production, their experience in it does not contribute to the development of systematic understanding of the production process which understanding is then used to improve the technique of material production. This is because in capitalist society material production is by and large controlled by the bourgeoisie, and so it is the bourgeoisie and their managerial hirelings who systematize and revise the technique of material production. It is of course the objective of socialist revolution to seize control of this aspect of social practice and use its products for the benefit of those who produce. In doing so we will be able to engage in the constant process of revising our means of material production by testing our theories about it in practice. This is the process which is developing in China today in such a dynamic manner.

An example of scientific experiment has been given previously. Scientific experiment is that aspect of practice which is inescapable in our daily lives – it is the process of learning itself. Yet, by itself, without systematization, scientific experimentation tends to blind empriicism, for the individual findings are heaped one upon another without order or meaning.

Finally, there is class struggle, the key aspect of practice for Marxist-Leninists. Marx’s analysis of material production has given us the knowledge of the current mode of production (capitalism) and it has given the knowledge of what, on the basis of internal contradiction, the next stage of human history must be. Yet in order to arrive at that next stage, we must understand that the key is class struggle. It is this struggle which also giva meaning to scientific experiment (in a social sense) because scientific experiment loses its empiricism when subordinated to the systematic theory of class struggle. Understanding the key role of class struggle is the essence of understanding the Marxist analysis of history. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, Peking ed., p. 30.) The following quote from Mao shows that, in light of what has been said above, the essence of practice is revolutionary practice.

“Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world. From the Marxist viewpoint, theory is important, and its importance is fully expressed in Lenin’s statement, ’Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.’ But Marxism emphasizes the importance of theory precisely and only because it can guide action. If we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeon hole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance. Knowledge begins with practice, and theoretical knowledge is acquired through practice and must then return to practice. The active function of knowledge manifests itself not only in the active leap from perceptual to rational knowledge, but – and this is more important – it must manifest itself in the leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice. The knowledge which grasps the laws of the world, must be redirected to the practice of changing the world, must be applied anew in the practice of production, in the practice of revolutionary class struggle and revolutionary national struggle and in the practice of scientific experiment. This is the process of testing and developing theory, the continuation of the whole process of cognition. The problem of whether theory corresponds to objective reality is not, and cannot be, completely solved in the movement of knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, mentioned above. The only way to solve this problem completely is to redirect rational knowledge to social practice, apply theory to practice and see whether it can achieve the objectives one has in mind.” (Mao, On Practice, SW 1:304. (emphasis added)

Mao then goes on to explain how class struggle and national struggle[5] are the essence of practice for Marxist-Leninists.

“Marxism-Leninism is held to be true not only because it was so considered when it was scientifically formulated[6] by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin but because it has been verified in the subsequent practice of revolutionary class struggle and revolutionary national struggle.[7]” (ibid., p. 305.)

In the analysis of how to develop a political line on the character of the Canadian revolution, we have so far omitted a key aspect. This aspect is the lack of a method to test the line in practice. So far we have not explained a way to put revolutionary strategy and tactics into practice.

To the economists it is possible to put revolutionary strategy and tactics into practice because, to them, any aspect of the economic struggle leads to class consciousness and is a part of class struggle. Therefore, their practical activity would be a form of revolutionary practice. Marxism-Leninism, however, strongly disagrees with this. Marxism-Leninism maintains that economic struggle does not by itself lead to class consciousness and that isolated skirmishes between workers and capitalists are not class struggles. Marxism-Leninism in fact maintains that this sort of activity only leads to “trade-union consciousness”, which in turn leads to bourgeois ideology.

Then how does a Marxist-Leninist engage in practice? What method does s/he use? What instrument does s/he use? What then is the key link for Marxist-Leninists?

“The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only be a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” (Lenin, What Is To Be Done, p. 29.)

It is only with a party that we can have “revolutionary practice.” It is only with a party that we can engage in successful class struggle or in non-empiricist scientific experiment. This is why Mao stated categorically:

“In the present epoch of the development of society the responsibility of correctly knowing and changing the world has been placed by history upon the shoulders of the proletariat and its party.” (Mao, On Practice, p. 308. Emphasis added.)

For Mao, the theory of “from the masses to the masses,” sometimes cited by economists to justify building a party out of their experience in the workplace, is inseparable from the party of the proletariat.

“In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas.. . . Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge. (Some questions concerning methods of leadership,”, SW 3:120. emphasis added)

And so we conclude: the principal task of Marxist-Leninists in Canada is to build a revolutionary party of the proletariat.

“Only a party which adopts the standpoint of advanced detachment of the proletariat and is able to raise the masses to the level of understanding the class interests of the proletariat – only such a party can divert the working class from the path of trade unionism and convert it into an independent political force.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, pp. 103-104.)

It is on this basis that we reject definitions of the primary task such as “building class consciousness at the workplace” as economist and revisionist. On this basis, we also reject evasions of the issue of the primary task, which tends to be a more sophisticated version of the same economist tendencies. Our position is clear: Whenever Marxist-Leninists do not have a party, their central task is to build that party.

It is only with this party that Marxist-Leninists in capitalist society can complete the “movement of knowledge.”

“When men in society throw themselves into the practice of changing a certain objective process (whether natural or social) at a certain stage of its development, they can, as a result of the reflection of the objective process in their brains and the exercise of their subjective activity, advance their knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, and create ideas, theories, plans or programmes which correspond in general to the laws of that objective process. They then apply these ideas, theories, plans or programmes in practice in the same objective process. And if they can realize the aims they have in mind, that is, if in that same process of practice they can translate, or on the whole translate, those previously formulated ideas, theories, plans or programmes into fact, then the movement of knowledge may be considered completed with regard to this particular process.” (Mao, On Practice, p. 305.)

Lenin does not allow Communists to wriggle out of the central necessity for a party by pleading, “But this is a different period of history.” (A common economist ploy.)

“It is ridiculous to plead different circumstances and a change of periods; the building of a fighting organization and the conduct of political agitation are essential under any ’drab, peaceful’ circumstances, in any period, no matter how marked by a ’declining revolutionary spirit;’ moreover, it is precisely in such periods and under such circumstances that work of this kind is particularly necessary, since it is too late to form the organization in times of explosion and outbursts; the party must be in a state of readiness to launch activity at a moment’s notice. . . . Without a strong organization skilled in waging political struggles under all circumstances, and at all times, there can be no question of that systematic plan of action, illuminated by firm principles and steadfastly carried out, which alone is worthy of the name of tactics. (Where to Begin, CW 5:18. Emphasis added.)

VII. The basis for a Party

It is of course not enough to call for a party. A party of whom? Based on what? Before we answer these questions, however, it is of vital importance to emphasize the reason for a party.

A party is the fusion of socialism with the working class movement. The two are divided by a raging river.

“It is not enough to set tasks, we must also solve the problem of the methods for carrying them out. If our task is to cross a river, we cannot cross it without a bridge or a boat. Unless the bridge or boat problem is solved, it is idle to speak of crossing the river. Unless the problem of method is solved, talk about the task is useless.“ (Mao, Be Concerned with the Well-Being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work, SW 1:150.)

The party is the bridge between socialism and the working-class movement, and Marxism-Leninism is the method of building that party.

Once again we refer to the Marxist-Leninist understanding of theory and practice. Marxist-Leninist theory holds as its object the dictatorship of the proletariat, or socialism. The practice by which this theory is verified is successful class struggle. However, “Theory itself becomes a material force when it has seized the masses.” (Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.) It is the masses who make history and not theories. Therefore, the theory of socialism must be fused with the workers’ movement for socialism to be consciously realized, for successful class struggle to become a material reality. In order to realize the objective of our theory we must have a method of bridging the gap between the idea of socialism and the movement of the workers. That method is the Party.

In a general sense we find ourselves in agreement with the programme for party-building outlined by three Marxist-Leninist organizations in Quebec: M.R.E.Q., C.M.O. and En Lutte. Of course, these organizations have disagreements amongst each other and we with each of them, but this does not deny a great deal of similarity. In any case it is not our task at the present time to delineate those disagreements or those similarities. Instead, we strongly recommend that comrades read the position papers of these three groups and study their positions in detail. All three of these organizations consider building the Party to be the central task of Marxist-Leninists, and we consider this to be the most important point of agreement.

We cannot presuppose that those who are building the Party, those who are fusing the theory of Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement, share a common understanding as to what constitutes Marxist-Leninist theory. Therefore, Marxist-Leninists must engage in the process of struggle and unity in order to establish that common understanding and hence the basis of unity on which a Party can be built.

“In order to build the party, it is not enough to be able to shout: ’Unity’; it is necessary, in addition, to have some sort of political programme, a programme of political action.” (Lenin, Liquidators Against the Party, CW 18:24.)

The question remains, then: On what common ideological grounds do we unite? Our position is that the most important ideological struggle among Marxist-Leninists is the struggle against economism and revisionism.

“Only a direct and frank polemic against narrow ’economism’ . . . can ensure the correct development of the Russian working-class movement and Russian Social Democracy.” (Lenin, Apropos of the Profession de Foi, CW 4:296.)

“Without this fight it would have been quite useless even to think of creating an independent workers’ party in Russia and of its playing a leading part in the revolution.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 24.)

We revolutionary Social-Democrats are dissatisfied with this worshipping of spontaneity, i.e., worshipping what is ’at the present moment.’ We demand that the tactics that have prevailed in recent years be changed; we declare that ’before we can unite, and in order that we may unite we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.’” (Lenin, What Is To Be Done, p. 26.)

Because of the desire for unity some Marxist-Leninists in Canada exhibit definite liberal attitudes and shirk from sharp polemical struggle against economism. They find tones such as ours too sharp for good interpersonal relations. To this we can only respond as Lenin did to similar criticism.

“If we are certain that the ’comrades’ are moving backwards, that the ’comrades’ are hemming in and distorting the aims of the working class movement, we consider it our duty to give expression to our convictions with a complete certainty that leaves nothing unsaid.” (A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy, CW 4:261.)

Yet even a firm line of demarcation between Marxism-Leninism and economism is not sufficient ideological basis to build a Party. To build a Party, Marxist-Leninists must agree on how to apply the theory of Marxism-Leninism to Canada, which means that they must agree on the nature of the principal contradiction in Canada and in the world (these contradictions are not necessarily the same), on the correct basic strategy for Canada, and on a tactical approach to implement this strategy.

It follows that there are two main tasks for Marxist-Leninists at the present time. On the level of theory, they should engage in intensive and serious study with the objective of understanding the principal contradiction in Canada and in the world, and the strategic and tactical implications of these contradictions. On the level of practice, they should struggle for the principled unity of Marxist-Leninists and expose all who are pretenders.

“To establish and consolidate the Party means to establish and consolidate unity among all Russian Social-Democrats; such unity cannot be decreed ... it must be worked for.” (Lenin, Draft Declaration of Iskra and Zarya, CW 4:323.)

To carry on this work, we propose that Marxist-Leninists seek to carry on the ideological struggle amongst themselves, both locally and nationally. Those Marxist-Leninists who achieve unity around their opposition to economism and on the principal contradictions should unite organizationally to put forward a common strategy and tactics for achieving the results of their theory. This sort of organization, sometimes called a pre-party organization, is given the task of building the Party, which is the instrument of the working class to achieve socialism.

We propose that this organization mobilize itself to achieve the following:
1. The unity of Marxist-Leninists.
2. The establishment of a correct strategy and tactics for the Canadian Revolution.
3. The putting forward of a correct program of propaganda and agitation, and the carrying out of that program.
These tasks are necessary to build the Party.

So far this paper has dealt with the major deviation among Marxist-Leninists, viz., economism, which emphasizes workplace practice. Subsequently it will be dealing with another deviation, dogmatism, which holds that building the complete and correct line is the primary task for Marxist-Leninists. In this context, therefore, we would like to note that both workplace practice and the refinement and elaboration of political line will be urgent tasks of a democratic centralist organization. Some comrades do not realize that, far from minimizing the importance of these tasks, our position will work to strengthen their importance. Building the Party will give both tasks fuller meaning and enable both line and workplace practice to be tested properly.

We further propose that the founding of a Canada-wide newspaper be the organizational key to the realization of these three points as outlined above.

“The question, therefore, is whether the work that is already being conducted should be continued in ’amateur’ fashion or whether it should be organized into the work of one party and in such a way that it is reflected in its entirety in one common organ.

Here we come to the most urgent question of our movement, to its sore point – organization.” (Lenin, An Urgent Question, CW 4:221.)

This of course means that the organization of Marxist-Leninists would be a Canada-wide organization.

The main objection that may be raised is that the achievement of this purpose first requires the development of local group activity. We consider this fairly widespread opinion to be fallacious. We can and must immediately set about founding the party organ – and, it follows, the Party itself – and putting them on a sound footing. (Ibid. For other comments by Lenin on the fallacy of emphasizing local organization, see CW4:2\6 and 295-6.)

The first Congress of the Social-Democratic Labour Party failed to establish the Party, and so essentially there was no party but instead a tendency which was called Social-Democracy. (Today this same tendency is called Marxism-Leninism.) In response to this situation, Lenin and others formed a “pre-party” organization around the All-Russian Newspaper Iskra and proceeded to use this newspaper as the means of: uniting Social-Democrats; putting forward correct strategy and tactics for the Revolution; organizing propaganda and agitation. These established the base on which the Party was built.

We cannot improve on these formulations. In view of the backward state of our movement at the present time, it seems wise to follow the guidelines which have passed the test of history in other countries. We recommend that comrades make a thorough study of the formation of the Bolshevik Party and learn the many valuable lessons of this process. We particularly recommend that the Iskra organization and Iskra itself as a newspaper be studied well. To facilitate these processes, we have included a bibliography of relevant readings in the Appendix to this article.

VIII. One Deviation Down, One to Go.

In the struggle of Marxist-Leninists against the right deviation, economism, there has arisen a left deviation which we characterize as dogmatism. We consider this deviation to be at odds with Marxism-Leninism on the nature of the principal task and therefore must be dealt with herein.

Dogmatism exists in varying degrees, but in general it defines the principal task as “developing a correct ideological, political and organizational line to guide the proletarian struggle.” This line is to be a complete line and is to be developed by individual or small groups who carry that line directly to the workers! (Kumlin et al., The Political Line, October 1974 position! paper.) Just as economism does not come out and deny the need for a Party but sees it as emerging out of workplace struggles, so dogmatism does not come out and deny the need for the Party but sees it as emerging from the development and “testing” of lines by various Marxist-Leninists. This tendency generally argues that the Party can be built when the individual or small group with the correct line has proven itself by winning a following. For both groups, the Party needs to be built, but essential work could be properly done in its absence and hence Party-building can take a back seat to certain other tasks.

The source of this dogmatist error lies in the failure on the part of these comrades to deepen their criticism of economism to the point where they understand the nature of “practice” as set out by Lenin and Mao. Therefore, the dogmatists make the same error as the economists in their conception of practice.

“Those who have what they believe to be a correct line should be putting it into practice and trying to win others to it.” (Ibid., p. 2.)

How does an individual, or a small group, put its own private little line into practice? How does this individual, or small group, test this line and win a following to this line? As we have already seen, testing a line in practice does not consist in securing its popularity among workers, or even among other advanced Marxist-Leninists. It consists in implementing that line in terms of strategy and tactics and studying the results of that implementation. Such strategic and tactical implementation cannot be accomplished adequately in the absence of a Party except on a very small scale; the literature of Marxism-Leninism leaves no doubt about this. Three comrades in Saskatoon cannot “test their line” on the principal contradiction in Canada with any accuracy. We can see, then, that this dogmatist error, by being based on the same erroneous conception of practice which is the downfall of economism, leads to the same far more serious error that we find in economism.

“Through this process, different lines can be sharpened and sorted out. When this is done, and one line has proved itself correct in practice (by its leadership to the proletariat and by solving the problems of the revolutionary proletarian movement), the conditions will exist to form a national party.” (Ibid., pp. 2-3.),

Thus they show, in not understanding the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, that they believe that the workplace practice or the trade union practice in which they are engaged can test not just a line on factories or trade unions but “a complete line on the world political and economic situation” as well as a complete “ideological, political and organizational line to guide the proletarian struggle.”

Wearily we repeat that without the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the proletarian movement, there can be no talk of a “revolutionary proletarian movement.” This fusion, we repeat, can only be achieved by a Party: to deny this is to deny Leninism. Essentially, then, these dogmatists are saying that the basis of a Party is a complete political line that has been (unlike the economist position) built on study but (like the economist position) tested in economist “practice,” in the process of the building of “trade union consciousness.”

Need we wonder which class this complete ideological, political and organizational line will therefore serve? Our conclusion: a deviation that is left in form, right in essence.

Where do correct lines come from? This conception is so important that it is worth returning to Mao to drive the point home again in this new context.

“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.” (Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? in Quotations, p. 206. Emphasis added.)

As we have already established that the practice of class struggle is the key form of practice for Marxist-Leninists, and that class struggle is not simply trade union struggle, to say that a complete line must be tested in practice has to mean that it must be tested in the arena of class struggle. Therefore, we argue that there is no way of uniting around complete correct lines in advance of the building of the Party. This left deviation wants the struggle to advance to the stage of correct political line by jumping over the stage that is necessary for the full realization of that line: viz., the building of the party. Of course, it is possible to conduct scientific experiment in this epoch of history without a party, but surely these dogmatists want a higher form of knowledge than blind empiricism to guide the Canadian proletariat.

As with economism, there are varying degrees of dogmatism: the most extreme dogmatists emphasize the total correctness and completeness of political line and insist that all forms of organization in the absence of such a line are opportunist and bourgeois. Such a fantasy can be supported nowhere in the literature of Marxism-Leninism and we hold that the burden is on these people to demonstrate that this is a Leninist position. Certainly Lenin disagreed with it when he engaged in study circle activity before the Bolshevik Party was formed. These dogmatists would do well to note that Mao’s formulation, “unity-struggle-unity,” begins with unity based not on complete unity of line but on the desire for unity. (Quotations, p. 252.) J. Kumlin advanced a self-criticism which stated that his group should not have operated as an organization because, for example,

“Certain readings of Engels and Lenin coupled with the present situation of inflation and overproduction led some of us to the theory that the crisis of imperialism was due to the overproduction of goods, caused by the fact that the working class was not paid the value of the goods it produced. We now know this was wrong.” (Statement, Mar. 18, 1975.)

If Marxist-Leninists shirk from organization – or even, to take the less extreme form of dogmatism, shirk from uniting into a Party – because they do not have the correct line down pat but are still making errors, then rest assured Canada will fall clean into the sea before such organization is formed. This is not just hyperbole but comes directly from Anti-Duhring and Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It is an antidialectical conception that it is possible to know the complete truth about anything. All truth, according to Engels and Lenin, is relative truth; human knowledge tends to absolute truth but will never reach it. And so it is with lines. We will all be paralyzed from any unity of action if we insist on attaining these Platonic, metaphysical entites called “complete lines” before we can build organization. . .moreover, the constant flux of all things insures that a line which is correct today may be out of date tomorrow, as objective conditions change; and so, line must always be restudied, rethought, tested and retested, and subject to change. How can one who understands the dialectic hold that the development of the complete and correct line, as a thing in itself, is possible at all, much less is the principal task which the building of the Party must await?

In Marx’s day, these dogmatists would have refused to unite with Marx because he had the “incorrect line” on the future of the world revolution. Marx did not understand that the role of imperialism would be to create the first socialist revolutions in the backward countries. What these dogmatists do not understand is that the essence of science is in its dialectical materialist method, that the greatness of Marx was in his discovery and application of this method to human history, and that through the consistent use of this method line acquires the life and vitality which will keep it in the forefront of all events. As discussed at length before, however, Marxist-Leninists cannot properly use the method of dialectical materialism to evaluate the world situation unless they are properly organized (by this of course is meant organized on a democratic centralist basis, whereby the results of practice can be studied and summed up). United into an organization which can test its theories about class struggle and proletarian revolution in practice, our line – our concrete analysis of concrete conditions – will be infused with life and meaning. Without organization, it will be dead, a metaphysical thing-in-itself.

If we do not unite on the basis of complete and correct line, on what basis do we unite so that our unity is principled and not opportunist?

“Did not Iskra in its very first editorial declare itself against organizational unity prior to the demarcation of ideological boundaries? We must not forget that without a common ideological basis there can be no question of unity.” (Lenin, The Unity Conference, CW 5:227. Emphasis added.)

The basis of unity for Marxist-Leninists is “ideological unity, without which organizational unity is meaningless.” (Ibid.) This is the position we have put forward in this article. The degree of ideological unity that will be necessary will come out of the process of struggle among Marxist-Leninists. To say that certain ideological agreement must be the basis of principled organization, however, is not the same thing as to say that the development of the correct line is the principal task at the present time.

IX. The Fetishism of Political Line

Like “practice,” the term “line” is getting overworn these days, but that overuse has not led to deeper understanding of the term. On the contrary, the use of the term “line” is pulled out of context of the literature of Marxism-Leninism and used in ways that were not intended by Lenin, Stalin or Mao. Let us give some examples.

Kumlin et al., in their position paper, cite Mao to justify their line on line as follows: “When a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy.” (On Contradiction, SW 1:336). Therefore, concludes Kumlin’s group, a complete ideological, political and organizational line must be formulated and tested before a party can be formed. Does not follow! Mao says “guiding line,” not “complete ideological, political and organizational line”; moreover, he also refers to “method, plan or policy”, which are omitted from Kumlin’s conclusions. Kumlin’s group fails to realize that Mao wrote this sentence in 1937, long after the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, whose line on China at the time of its formation was very sketchy and limited. Actually, Mao says that it took him ten years to formulate a correct line on the peasant question. Since this ten-year period saw the Chinese Communist Party through the Long March, it was very fortunate for the history of the Chinese people that Mao did not take Kumlin’s advice on the subject of line.

Another example: Some Marxist-Leninists use an article in Peking Review (March 23,1973) entitled "Party Building Must be Closely Linked With Its Political Line”, to justify their position that developing political line is the primary task. And so, let us look more closely at this article. The authors say that in the first 18 years of the Party in China this line was “the correct or incorrect handling of the questions of united front and armed struggle.”

“Building up our Party, therefore, involved a process of struggle between correct and erroneous lines. It was precisely in the course of this struggle that the Party achieved its development, growth in strength and consolidation. This is a very important historical experience in building up our Party.” (Ibid. Emphasis added.)

In other words, the line to which this article refers is the basic ideological framework of struggle within the Party, the fundamental demarcation of basic analysis, strategy arid tactics. It is not a complete, or even nearly complete, analysis of the world situation or even the contradictions of Chinese society. Yet “It was precisely in the course of this struggle that the Party achieved its development, growth in strength and consolidation.” Notice that this struggle happened within the context of a Party and not in its absence. Notice that the Chinese never speak of political struggle or political ine in the absence of a Party. Mao said of this basic political line:

“The united front, armed struggle and Party building are the three fundamental questions for our Party in the Chinese revolution. Having a correct grasp of these three questions and their interrelations is tantamount to giving correct leadership to the whole Chinese revolution.” (Introducing The Communist, SW 11:288. Emphasis added.)

The article in Peking Review goes on to apply the lessons of the liberation era to the era of proletarian dictatorship.

“Under such historical conditions, a proletarian political Party may turn from a Marxist-Leninist Party into a revisionist party if it is not guided by a Marxist-Leninist line. The basic line formulated by Chairman Mao for our Party during the historical period of socialism has not only correctly solved the problems of theory, principles and policies for continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it has also correctly solved the fundamental question concerning Party building in the socialist period.” (p. 5.)

The author summarizes that by this “basic” line he means the line that class struggle continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Here again, the development of this key, this basic strategy for the revolution, “has correctly solved the fundamental question” under socialism. Notice that the author does not think that a total analysis of particular aspects of material production in Shanghai, or of the role of women, or of the national character of minority groups, must be formulated before the Party can function properly. The Party develops lines on these questions in the course of its existence. Mao says, “If there were no contradictions in the Party and no ideological struggles to resolve them, the Party’s life would come to an end.” Yet there are those who shirk from these contradictions, the life blood of the Party, and refuse to unite until such time as these contradictions are resolved. To them, the Party is not the living dynamic of the proletarian revolution, but is a lifeless tool by which Line is implemented.

We take the position that what’s good enough for the Chinese masses is good enough for us. Both during the liberation struggle and under the dictatorship of the proletariat, they formulated basic ideology and strategy – always within the framework of a Party – and declared that that ideological foundation, in the context of a Party, was tantamount to correct leadership to the Chinese revolution. We agree, and we wonder where on earth our comrades have dreamed up this emphasis on line-building by individuals or small groups. Mao talks about “line” only as something carried by a Party in its struggles, and Lenin and Stalin do not talk much about “line” at all! Of course, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao all talk about the necessity for concrete analysis, and their discussions about such necessity are always cited by our’ “line fetishists”. Yet while our line fetishists are quick to cite the needs for such analyses, they are much slower in citing the voluminous literature on the need for a Party to give these analyses meaning, and they are certainly incapable of demonstrating that Lenin, Stalin or Mao used the conception of “line” as something to be developed, elaborated and tested by individuals or small groups before unity can be realized. Yet, like our economists and their “practice”, line fetishists so often refuse to be swayed by the evidence; no amount of citation from the history of the world proletarian movement seems to make a dent in their line on line, and no dearth of evidence to support their own position seems to matter much either. Economism and dogmatism appear to have a great deal in common!

The chief danger in line fetishism is that it elevates ideas to the principal level, and this is fundamentally wrong. “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” (Mao, On Coalition Government, SW III: 257.) In this epoch, the people find their dynamic guidance and leadership in the form of the Party. Line is a tool of the people, hence of the Party; the Party is not a tool of its line. The fetishism of line “means thinking in terms of absolutes, that is, a metaphysical approach to problems.” (Mao, Quotations, pp. 219-20.) “It is dogmatism to approach Marxism from a metaphysical point of view and to regard it as something rigid.” (Ibid., p. 20.) In so elevating the principle of line, these dogmatists discredit the very important role which lines does play in the building of the revolutionary movement.

“The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political idea is to reduce it to absurdity on plea of defending it. For every truth if ’overdone,’ if exaggerated, if carried beyond the limits of its actual applicability, can be reduced to absurdity, and is even bound to become an absurdity under these conditions.” (Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, Peking ed., p. 57.)

Just as people jumped from the terrorist “left” deviation to the economist “right” deviation, now they are jumping again to the dogmatist “left” deviation. We recommend to all these people that they make a thorough study of the works listed in the Appendix to this article before they gravitate to still another deviation which will retard the development of the Party.

X. Conclusion

“If we judge people not by the brilliant uniforms they don, not by the high sounding appellations they give themselves, but by their actions, and by what they actually advocate,” (Lenin, What Is To Be Done, p. 19) then it will be clear that there are two major deviations among Marxist-Leninists in Canada. These are empiricism, manifesting itself as economism; and dogmatism, manifesting itself as line fetishism. Economism is the far more dangerous error for two reasons. First, it is the trade union movement which has the ear of the masses, and it is the flowering of reformist groups calling themselves “Marxist” which has been confusing the masses; dogmatists never win a mass following. Second, it is from the frustrations of right-wing politics that people jump into left errors: as, for example, in the 1960’s, when the inability of revisionists such as the CP to mobilize the potential of the antiwar movement led the most advanced revolutionists to terrorism. Yet, although not equally serious, both left and right errors must be struggled against in the process of building the Party.

We have seen that both deviations, while quite different in form, have several things in common. Both misunderstand the meaning of “practice,” and how to test theory in practice. Both rely on the spontaneous workplace struggle to test their politics. Both come from incomplete reading of the history of Party-building in the world proletarian movement, in particular of Lenin’s extensive work on the history of the Bolshevik party and the central position of the Party in the development of class struggle. Yet, for various reasons, many members of both tendencies refuse to be persuaded by this voluminous material and cling to their positions with little firm substantiation, or simply with quotations taken out of contest.

Socialism is the idea, and the workers’ movement is the reality of today. The two are separated by a raging river. As theory must be linked with practice, so socialism must be fused with the workers’ movement. There is only one way to accomplish this, and that is by building the bridge between them; there is only one bridge, and that is the Party of the proletariat; there is only one method of building that bridge, and that method is Marxism-Leninism. To build the Party is therefore the central task of our movement. Our unity must be a principled unity, but unity must be principal.


Appendix: Suggested Readings

The following is a list of articles by Lenin which we consider key to the subject of the principal task for Marxist-Leninists. All references are from the Collected Works, Moscow 1972. We also recommend that people read some of the history of the formation of the Chinese and Albanian Communist Parties.

The Tasks of Russian Social-Democrats, 2:323.
Articles for ’Rabochaya Gazeta’, 4:205.
A Draft Programme of Our Party, 4:227
A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy, 4:255.
Apropos of the Profession de Foi, 4:286.
Draft of a Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra and Zarya, 4:320.
Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra, 4:351. The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement, 4:366. Where To Begin, 5:13.
The ’Unity’ Conference of R.S.D.L.P. Organizations Abroad, 5:223.
A Talk with Defenders of Economism, 5:313. Political Agitation and ’The Class Point of View’, 5:337. What Is To Be Done?, 5:347.
Preface to the Second Edition of the Pamphlet, The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats, 6:221.


[1]“Canada” is used operationally to mean the territory and nation(s) included in its state boundaries. However, we note that correct forms of leadership are appearing in embryo in the Nation of Quebec.

[2]Russian revisionism, too, opposes extensive quotation.

[3]There are of course many other works by all these authors which verify this principle.

[4]“Strategy is the determination of the direction of the main blow of the proletariat at a given stage of the revolution.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, Peking ed., p. 84.) “Tactics are the determination of the line of conduct of the proletariat in the comparatively short period of the flow or ebb of the movement.” (Stalin, Foundation of Leninism, p. 86) “Tactics are a part of strategy, subordinate to it and serving it.”

[5]National struggle is added because capitalism moved to its highest stage, imperialism, making the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations and peoples the primary contradiction in the world.

[6]Scientific experiment is here seen as a type of practice.

[7]“Lenin said that ’revolutionary theory is not dogma,’ that it ’assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement,’ for theory must serve practice, for theory must answer the questions raised by practice, for it must be tested by practical results.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, pp. 17-18.)