Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Foremost Representatives of the “Oppressed People”

The petty bourgeoisie is, according to its defenders, a ’basic ally’ of the working class in the struggle against capital. This is the common position taken by nearly all the new ’Marxist-Leninist’ parties and organizations who have taken to calling themselves the vanguard leadership of the proletariat. The RCP USA, for example, refers to the petty bourgeoisie (which for convenience we will abbreviate to ’p.b.’) as being composed of “some more and some less, firm allies of the proletariat”; the MLOC makes its appeals to “the working and progressive people”; the IWK harmonizes that ”together, the working class and oppressed peoples conduct continuous struggle against their class enemy”; and so on. Anyone who has studied the sum total of “ML” publications is immediately struck by this common and persistently repeated theme. Despite all their fallings-out with one another, the various “ML” trends are agreed on one thing: that the working class and p.b. as a whole are basic allies, and that the struggle for socialism is in the direct interests of both.

Who are the p.b. “oppressed peoples” and what characteristics do they possess that the working class should be encouraged to unite with them? The fundamental assumption made by all the “ML” opportunists without exception is that all opposition to imperialism is, if not out-rightly revolutionary, then at least extremely ’progressive’, and that it is therefore the bounden duty of Marxist-Leninists to support it. The p.b. is, according to this view, oppressed by the same imperialist bourgeoisie that exploits the working class, suffers the same insecurity of existence as the working class, and like the working class spontaneously offers resistance. A common enemy, common oppression, and common resistance – such is the basis of ’unity’ between the two classes that the RCP, OL, WVO, RWL, et. al. advocate. As to differences between the p.b. and working class, it is formally admitted that the p.b. of course tends to vacillate, may strive only for reforms and petty concessions, is therefore not entirely reliable in its anti-imperialism, and that in the end, only the working class is consistently revolutionary. Hence the calls by our opportunists to ’give proletarian leadership’ to the spontaneous struggles of the p.b. and thus forge a common front against imperialism.

There is in fact a basis for the revolutionary alliance between sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and that is, that elements from the p.b. may be revolutionary, may actively struggle for socialism, on the condition that they abandon their own narrow class interests and strivings and come wholly to the standpoint of the working class. It is precisely this conditional nature of the alliance, the fact that the p.b. elements must give up their ambitions to maintain an independent and comfortable position above the working class, that our “ML” opportunists have ’forgotten’. instead, they have, taken the slogan of ’Working and Oppressed People, Unite!’ to mean that the working class must provide leadership for the p.b. by supporting the p.b.’s interests and demands. This ’fusion’ of two absolutely contradictory things, of the narrow reformist striving of the p.b. with the revolutionary aspirations of the working class, this attempt to merge the retrograde anti-imperialism of the p.b. with the principled struggle of the proletariat means in fact to subordinate the proletarian movement to the p.b. and to degrade Marxism-Leninism to the level of p.b. opportunism.

“Oppressed peoples” has been taken to mean every strata of the p.b. which has been set in motion by the imperialist crisis. In the “ML” press we find sympathetic appeals on behalf of wide sections of the intelligentsia, students, doctors, teachers, nurses, lawyers, untenured faculty, all and sundry of the minority nationalities, laboraristocrats, farmers, petty proprietors, and so on. Almost all the “ML” groups have featured articles pledging and demanding unconditional support for these p.b. elements, as they “organize their struggles against attacks on their living standards” (Palante Vol 1 #10 10-75 p.5). The p.b. elements who the working class would find most alien and unlikely folk, people whose conditions of life and sentiments bear absolutely no similarity to the proletariat, have even been designated by our “ML” theoreticians as “workers”. Any factory worker would indeed be taken aback by our “ML”s offhand references to “teachers or any other workers” (The Call Vol 4 #1 10-75 p.6), “workers and other professionals” or “doctors and the rest of the workers” (The Communist Vol 2 #3 11-75 p.6). One would think that a minimum requirement for any organization claiming to represent the proletariat would be that it at least be able to correctly identify the class.

The historical precedent for such a loose view of the ’unity’ of the p.b. and the proletariat is to be found, not in the works of Marxism-Leninism, but in the writings of those who have attempted to turn Marx and Lenin into common liberals. it is the role of communists, wrote Dimitrov, to “...defend the vital interests of all the exploited, toiling strata, that is, of the over-whelming majority in any capitalist country...”. By “exploited, toiling strata” Dimitrov meant, as is elaborated in his thesis on the United Front, the entire urban and rural petty bourgeoisie. But neither Dimitrov nor our modern Dimitrov’s go on to explain how it is that the working class can defend the ’vital interests’ of a class whose ’vital interests’ directly contradict those of the proletariat. How is it that the working class can champion the cause of a class whose every instinct reduces to the basest self-interest, a class which only attempts to maintain its privileged economic above the working class? The question begs for an answer.

The position of Marxism-Leninism on the petty bourgeoisie is simple and clear. The working class supports only those political demands of the p.b. which simplify the class struggle and whose achievement demonstrates the hypocritical nature of bourgeois democracy; but it does not support the p.b.’s economic demands, since these aim only at strengthening the foundations of capitalist society. Thus we support the formal equality of women, but not the special demands of p.b. women for economic acceleration into the professions or business; we support the formal equality of national minorities, but in no way champion the cause of the minority p.b.’s economic ’upgrading’ within the existing system; we support the right of nations to self-determination, but do not support the economic ’right’ of the p.b. and bourgeoisie within the oppressed nations to exploit ’their own’ proletariat; we support the right of the small farmers to exercise their political franchise, but we do not support their economic demands against the large agricultural monopolies since this would be a step backward from present productive relations; and so on. Politically, the working class has ’allies’ within the p.b. only on those narrow and reformist issues which aim at achieving formal democratic rights. We struggle for such rights, not because we see them as a ’solution’ to oppression, but simply so that the workers will “see that the root evil is capitalism, not lack of rights” (Lenin). it is in the course of such struggles that the working class demonstrates the hopelessness of the p.b.’s situation under imperialism, encourages it to abandon Sifts narrow striving, and thus wins p.b. elements to its side. Economically, the working class has no allies, save for those who have taken the workers’ class standpoint as their own. Thus members of the p.b. are revolutionary only to the extent that they cease being petty bourgeois, cease striving to put themselves above the working class, cease pursuing their own narrow petty ambitions, and ’place themselves at the standpoint of the proletariat’, that is, join the struggle of a class that in principle rejects all narrowness, petty striving and class privileges. The interests of the working class and petty bourgeoisie coincide only when the latter abandon their own present p.b. interests in favor of their future interests as productive workers under socialism.

The petty bourgeoisie sometimes struggles against the big bourgeoisie, but

“...it is absolutely incorrect to identify the proletariat’s discontent with that of the small producer, and merge the two. The small producers’ discontent very often engenders (and inevitably must engender in them or among a considerable section of them) an urge to defend their existence as smal1 proprietors, i.e. to defend the foundations of the present-day order, and even to turn it back.” p. 9 V.I. Lenin Notes on Plekhanov’s Second Draft Program CW Vol.6.

In addition to the p.b.’s struggle against the imperialists, their struggle is, as Lenin states, “...very often directed against the proletariat...”. The working class is therefore not at all the ’foremost representative’ of the petty bourgeoisie, but provides leadership only for those p.b. elements who “...realize that their doom is inevitable...” and who on the basis of that realization abandon their narrow interests. Marxism-Leninism does not embrace the defence of the p.b., but expresses the interests “...of the working class movement alone...”. It does not organize the p.b. for the ’fight back’ to preserve its privileges, but “...organizes the fighting forces of the working class alone...”. And therefore our policy towards the petty bourgeoisie must be simply to “...urge (and compel) all to desert their own standpoint and place themselves at ours, and not vice versa – we do not desert our own standpoint, and we do not merge our class struggle with the struggle of all sorts of weathercocks.” Ibid. p.53 That is how Lenin put it, long before our ’Marxist-Leninists’ arrived to organize the ’Fight Back’ of the petty bourgeoisie and “link up” the ’struggles’ of all and sundry to the cause of the proletariat.

’Where there is oppression, there is resistance.’ But how are we to compare the oppression and resistance of the working class, a resistance which when it becomes conscious of its objective interests is truly revolutionary, to the ’oppression and resistance’ of students, doctors, professionals, and so on, whose sole oppression is expressed by their being thrown down into the working class and whose resistance is aimed simply at avoiding that fate? Only the “ML” press can offer us the solution to this vexing and, for the p .b., ’burning’ question.

As an example we take the following from an article by the Workers Congress (ML), entitled “Malpractice Crisis” (The Communist Vol.2 #8 p.4). The WC(ML) begins, as is the common habit, with a homily on how yet another strata of the p.b. has been thrown up into ’the struggle’:

“The struggle of the proletariat and other sectors of the population including the intermediate strata ^such as doctors, teachers, etc., testifies to the growing crisis of imperialism.” We do not doubt the validity of this testimonial on the current crisis. There is no more accurate barometer of the state of the economy than the stirring to life of the p.b., especially an upper stratum such as doctors. But the WC(ML) does not mean simply to inform us; it has serious business at hand. It must demonstrate how this “struggle of the proletariat and other sectors of the population” is, despite Lenin, actually one struggle, and how it is fit and proper for the working class to aid these ’other sectors’ in their fight against the crisis.

The WC(ML) is so distressed over the harsh treatment the medical profession has received, it is driven into a tirade against

“...these big companies (who) are trying to force these doctors out of private practice (and) into these corporate medical-centers and institutions.”

Lord! Could anything possibly be worse than to be ousted from one’s private practice and forced to draw a salary from an institution. That would be absolutely...degrading! But aside from the shocking effect it would have on the private MD1s, the WC(ML) is quick to point out that the future of the working class is also at stake. Unless, we are told, we are victorious in struggling against the monopoly controlled, high cost of malpractice insurance premiums, the doctor’s will be ’forced’ to “pass it on to their patients”. Thus, you see, the “doctors and the rest of the workers” share exactly the ’same’ interests. Of course, the monopoly controlled, high cost of our MD’s air fare to Europe is also ’passed on to their patients’, but surely the WC(ML) will take up this ’struggle’ too at a later date. There will be ample time for such worthy causes, for, as the WC(ML) predicts,

“Imperialist crisis will more and more bring professionals and other petty bourgeois strata into struggle.” And no doubt, the WC(ML) will be there, hat in hand. it will not offend the new arrivals with the sobering truth that the working class does not give a brass farthing for the ’struggle’ to maintain doctors in private practice, i.e. private enterprise; nor will it explain that the working class has no interest in keeping the operating costs of the p.b. at a minimum. It will not advise the p.b. that their ambitions are foolish and retrograde, that they should abandon their petty aspirations and come over to the working class. Not at all. Instead it advises the Marxist-’ Leninists and advanced workers that

“We must give our support to these fights and win these strata to stand with hospital workers –and the class as a whole– in the struggle against capitalism.” That is, the working class should abandon its standpoint, should fight for p.b. interests hostile and alien to its own, and thus win the hearts of the p.b. in the struggle ’against’ capitalism. That is, according to the WC(ML) et. al.

According to Lenin, however, it is just the opposite. Winning “these strata” to stand with the “class as a whole” (which class – the p.b.?) does not mean we fight for their interests, that we desert our own standpoint. “These strata” are won over, stand with the working class, only when they abandon their own narrow strivings for private gain altogether. The ’struggle’ they have been brought into by the imperialist crisis is indeed waged against monopoly capital, but is waged from a reactionary, self-seeking standpoint that aims only to maintain the p.b. in the comfort to which it is accustomed.

“Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism...”. V.I. Lenin A Caricature of Marxism CW Vol.23 p.63.

That is how it stands according to Lenin. And yet it is because so few stand with Lenin and the working class, and so many choose to stand with the ousted petty bourgeoisie, that we have “more and more” determined “ML” defenders of the p.b. with every passing day.

To demonstrate the continuity of this attempt at ’fusion’, we take an article from Palante, organ of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, now part of the ’Revolutionary Wing’. The article “Teachers Fight Effects of Imperialist Crisis” (Palante Vol.1 #10 10-75 p.5) was written long before the PRRWO discovered that ’Party-building is the central and only task’ or that they plus the RWL alone were fit to build it. Still, the article is typical of the bowing and scraping to the p.b. that is so common in the opportunist press, and offers us further insight into the sort of ’party’ the PRRWO intends to create. The PRRWO begins with the usual homily on the grave effects of the crisis:

“The recent strike by teachers of the UFT in NYC was another example of the rise of the spontaneous struggles in these times of a deepening imperialist crisis.”

Enter the oppressed and resisting p.b. strata. That the class content of the p.b.’s “rise of the spontaneous struggle” is precisely to “...save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class” (Manifesto), or that the spontaneity of the p.b. is altogether different than the spontaneous struggles of the working class, is of little concern to our ’Bolsheviks’ of the PRRWO. What matters is simply that the p.b. is on the move, and the PRRWO finds this such an outstanding and attractive phenomenon that it cannot help but trail behind it.

What were the UFT teachers protesting? The elimination of teaching positions and cutbacks on teachers’ benefits. The PRRWO cites this as evidence that

“The petty bourgeoisie, especially the middle and lower levels, are constantly being driven into the ranks of the proletariat..” But what conclusion does the PRRWO draw from this? Does it conclude that since the p.b. is being driven into the working class it should therefore join in the workers’ class struggle and on the proletariat’s terms? Not at all. The PRRWO would save the p.b. from such a fate, and would instead urge us to join in the p.b.’s fight against the forward motion of history and support the “just struggles of the teachers” to maintain their ’rightful’ position above the working class. We are to do this, we are told, since “The teachers, as part of the petty bourgeoisie, are the main ally of the proletariat.” And being ’allies’, we must ’of course’ fight with might and main to defend their interests. To understand what is behind this one short, stupid phrase, is to understand what is possibly the source of the infection from which all our opportunists suffer in common.

If in fact the entire petty bourgeoisie, or the largest portion of it, were the “main ally” of the working class, there would be no need, as Lenin states, to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the vast p.b. strata had ’vital interests’ that harmonized with those of the working class, there would be no need to ’dictate’ from the proletarian standpoint, and in fact we would have had a socialist revolution long ago. But despite the sincere desire of our opportunists to strike such an alliance with the p.b., the fact remains that students, professronals, small farmers, shop keepers and so on are allies only to the extent that they give up their p.b. aspirations and interests and come wholly to the working class. Generally speaking, it is only the lowest strata of the petty bourgeoisie, those whose conditions of life are already very close to those of the working class, who will be able to abandon their narrow striving and join in the struggle for proletarian socialism. But as the Manifesto states, even this section, the “lower middle class”, is reactionary until it has done so.

“I repeat, it cannot be doubted that, under certain conditions it is by no means impossible for one section or another of the working people to come over to the side of the proletariat. The important thing is to define these conditions correctly. And the condition we are speaking of is expressed quite accurately in the words ’place themselves at the standpoint of the proletariat’. It is these words that draw a definite line of demarcation between us, (Communists), and all pseudo-socialist trends in general...” V.I. Lenin Speech on the Party Program CW Vol.6 p.489.

And it is precisely this “definite line of demarcation” that our opportunists have overstepped.

The PRRWO was not the only willing defender during the UFT strike, and it was thus forced to draw a few ’lines of demarcation’ of its own. While PRRWO was advancing the line of “main ally”, the CPUSA and PSP had gone a step further and simply pronounced teachers as part of the working class. For the PRRWO, this was only a revisionist attempt to upset the “...unity between... the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat, a unity which the bourgeoisie has historically hated and tried to prevent.” According to our ’true’ defenders of the p.b.,

“The revisionists push this line to liquidate the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution; and in the long run this is harmful to the majority of the petty bourgeoisie because only the proletariat can lead the way to the end of all oppression.” Harmful to the majority of the p.b.? it is doubtful that at the rate of three ’communist’ organizations per p.b. outburst, that the p.b. will come to any harm. With such active “ML” defenders of its interests, the p.b. is in fact much better off than the working class. But the PRRWO is after all, not so much concerned with the welfare of the working class as it is with the ability of the p.b, to use the proletarian movement as a vehicle for its own interests. If it were to leave this task to the CPUSA, the PRRWO itself would have no reason for being. it must therefore ’demarcate’ itself from the CP by offering an entirely ’unique’ way to assign the proletariat the “leading role” of the p.b.’s main defender.

That the PRRWO in fact shares a view of the p.b. identical to the CP’s is shown by its ’self-criticism’ for its activities amongst the p.b. unemployed. The PRRWO had issued a leaflet which attempted to point out the contradictions between the unemployed p.b. and the unemployed working class. The original position in the leaflet had been: “...that there are demands we will not support because they ’only serve the interests of the petty bourgeois teachers and not the working class and their children’.” In their ’self-criticism’ for this leaflet, the PRRWO concluded that to raise this contradiction was itself a ’contradiction’ which “in essence” denied support to the p.b.’s struggle altogether. By way of a mental process known only to our opportunists and the hopelessly deranged, the PRRWO further concluded that their original position was a “left” error. This spectre of Trotsky and ice picks was quickly dispelled with the PRRWO’s new position that:

“There is no reason to raise the difference in the struggle against unemployment of the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The main point that had to be stressed is the unity of the two classes in struggle against the bourgeoisie.” And to show that it does not suffer from exactly the same illusions as the CPUSA, the PRRWO informs us that

“Although the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat are not one and the same class, the proletariat must support the struggles of the petty bourgeoisie even though they are not the same identical demands of the proletariat.”

The CPUSA, you see, merges the p.b. and working class outright, whereas the PRRWO ’only’ merges their struggles. We could not ask for a more precise formulation of the opportunist affliction from which all our “ML” saviors suffer than: “the proletariat must support the struggles of the petty bourgeoisie”. Dimitrov could not have put it better. The PRRWO has undoubtedly read somewhere that the working class does not, in fact, defend the p.b., but to the devil with the “leftist” Lenin. No harm must befall the petty bourgeoisie.

Why is it that the opportunist press issues so many calls on the p.b.’s behalf? Our “ML”s simply cannot help themselves. The communist movement is, in its early stages, populated by certain elements from the intelligentsia (and only elements, not the strata as a whole) who “..cut themselves adrift...” and come over to the proletariat; elements “...who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole...”(Manifesto). They do not come over as allies, meaning to follow the working class, but as ideologists and theoreticians who have whole-heartedly adopted a proletarian outlook and who place themselves completely at the service of the working class out of intellectual commitment. These are the principled communist intellectuals, on whose shoulders falls the responsibility of drawing the advanced workers into a common struggle to build a durable and principled Communist Party. In addition to these, however, other elements of the intelligentsia and petty bourgeoisie also approach the working class. This section does not enter the working class movement voluntarily, that is, not on the basis of scientific understanding, but from economic necessity alone. Aside from ending up in the factories as declassed wage-slaves, a portion also ends up within the emergent communist movement. Subjectively, they see their arrival as voluntary, i.e. that they have ’chosen’ to enter the working class in order to lead it. Their petty self-importance will not allow them to admit that, after all, they were simply casualties of the intense competition characteristic of their class. And because they remain unconscious of their true position, they are unconscious of how it is revealed politically, i.e. in the ’socialist’ support for their own reactionary kith and kin, their very own “oppressed people”. Hence, the Auschwitz of theoretical atrocities that constitutes the opportunist “ML” press.

Marx and Engels wrote (in their ’Circular Letter’ of 1879) that there are two elementary requirements for bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements who wish to come to the working class: to possess real scientific skill, the objective knowledge necessary to move the working class forward; and to abandon their own class standpoint in order to come over to that of the proletariat. The section of the p.b. intelligentsia which has taken refuge in the working class movement only due to its own economic realities has come, for the most part, empty handed, it brings neither science nor real commitment to defend the interests of the working class alone. It is this strata which dominates what is commonly and incorrectly thought to be the ’Marxist-Leninist movement’, which raises the slogan “Working and oppressed people unite!” as a distress call to its blood brothers in the universities, hospitals, law offices, and so on, still out there, shoulder against the wheel of history, ’struggling’ for p.b. success. Thus come the disgruntled calls for “Jobs or Income Now!”, “Make the Rich Pay!”, and the p.b. “Fight Back”. However childish or offensive the working class may find such slogans to be, they are music to the ears of the petty bourgeoisie.

The common and unbridled defence of the narrow interests of the petty bourgeoisie makes our opportunists’ newspapers and programmes read more like the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “..give us your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.,.”, than the literature of a Marxist-Leninist movement. All the authors of this gibberish should, by all rights, constitute themselves into an openly petty bourgeois party, perhaps taking the name “The Ousted & Co. (P.B.)”. We could then perhaps

“...negotiate with them, form a bloc according to circumstances etc. But in a workers’ party they are an adulterating element. If reasons exist for tolerating them there for the moment it is our duty only to tolerate them, to allow them no influence in the Party leadership and to remain aware that a break with them is only a matter of time. That time, moreover, seems to have come.” Marx and Engels Circular Letter 1879 SW Vol.3 p.93.