Produced and Distributed: 1965.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and 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.
EROL Note: We believe that this text was an unpublished contribution to an internal Forum discussion in 1965.
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1. Amid Mao Tse-Tung’s immense development of Marxist theory, three leading items stand out as of special importance for us in Britain today.
The first is his guide to achieving a socialist revolution on a peasant basis, thus extending the field of revolution under Marxist leadership from the restricted, even though large, field of the industrialised capitalist countries to practically the whole of the rest of the world. The revolution that is now rapidly developing throughout the colonial, ex-colonial and neo-colonial world has been made possible by the success of the Chinese revolution and the guidance it has provided for sufficiently similar conditions – different not merely quantitatively but in kind, from those in the capitalist industrial countries about which Marx and Engels, and even Lenin, chiefly wrote, and in which they worked.
Just as the Chinese revolution was made possible by the Russian revolution, so the world-wide revolutionary explosion of today has been made possible by the Chinese revolution.
The second item is Mao’s practical guide for revolution anywhere and everywhere. It is in his slogan of “maximum unity against the principal enemy”, or – in the terminology of dialectics that he has also so much developed – to find in any situation the principal contradiction, and to concentrate on it. This point at the present moment here in Britain, is – I believe – the most important of all.
The third item is Mao’s theory of proletarian dictatorship.
At the present time in Britain the very word “proletarian dictatorship” has become, like the word “revolution”, a “non-word” for those who are trying to change Marxism into a theory of peaceful social reform: it has become a word that they are careful not to use. And indeed, the prolonged and serious errors, even though less important than the predominant success, of the first-ever proletarian dictatorship – that of the Soviet Union – both before and after the death of Stalin, are one of the factors that make it especially important for us to rehabilitate fully, before working class public opinion, that central concept of the science of socialist revolution.
We will deal with these three items in order.
2. With working class power achieves in Russia in 1917, the idea of revolutionary socialism at once started ’to spread through the world where, outside of Europe and North America, there was in general very little industrial working class, but a super-exploited peasantry.
The revolutionary nationalism of Sun Yat-Sen had been able to start the Chinese nationalist, anti-imperialist revolution successfully in 1911, but was unable to carry this revolution forward until, the alliance of the Kuomintang of Sun Yat-Sun with the CPSU in the 1920’s led to the great surge forward of the Northern campaign of 1926. Then came the great set-back of Chiang Kai Shek’s betrayal in the spring of 1927 followed by the further betrayal of the “Kuomintang Left” at Wuhan, some three months later. The basic reason for this was that the Comintern leadership of that period was unable to transform its policy to make it effective on a basis of peasant support. It therefore failed to see that Mao Tse-Tung’s policy was the correct one, and in 1927 supported instead, first Chen Tu-Hsiu, then the KMT “left” at Wuhan, before passing on to a series of “leftist” leaders, of whom Li Li-San, is the best known, and has received most Comintern whipping, though he was in fact by no means the one who did most harm to the revolution. (Mao Tse-Tung Collected Works). Li Li-San, after a short period (4 months only) in the leadership, acknowledged his mistakes, continued to work as a loyal communist, and is still today a member of the Central Committee of CPC. The greatest harm was done by his successors, with the Comintern names of Po Ku and Wang Ming – “comrades who like Liu-San had no experience in actual revolutionary struggles”. (MTT coll. wks. Vol.4, p180) – who brought the Chinese revolution to the brink of disaster, and were finally displaced in January 1935 at the Tsun-Yi conference, on the Long March. From this time on, the CPC leadership has been explicitly Mao Tse-Tung’s, and from 1935 to 1949 received neither military nor economic nor diplomatic support from the Soviet Union.
What was Mao’s line from 1926 onwards? In February 1927, a few weeks before Chaing’s coup in Nanking and Shanghai, he gave his report to the then party leadership on “The Peasant Movement in Hunan”, his own province, where the peasant revolution was most advanced. This is an extraordinarily full programme for the carrying through of a socialist revolution on a peasant basis. It was rejected by Chen Tu-Hsiu, unquestionably with the agreement of the Comintern.
The Comintern continued right through the 1930’s to show that it could not understand this peasant revolution under Marxist leadership. It continued to think in terms of a different period under different conditions.
The Comintern was dissolved by Stalin in 1942. But the same incomprehension and wrong policy was repeated in the early, and therefore, most difficult days of the Cuban revolution in the late 1950’s. Castro was supported only when it had become obvious that he was winning. The official pseudo-Marxist party leadership in Cuba was as blind as Chen Tu-Hsiu had been in China.
Since then there has been a repetition of this kind of mistake in Iraq, with tragic consequences to the Iraqi party, and most recently in, Brazil. Vietnam on the other hand has not made this mistake, and therefore survives and fights.
In short, in the post-Lenin era, wherever the CPSU was ideologically dominant, there was this same incomprehension of the needs of a peasant revolution, and the revolution was defeated. Wherever the revolution was successful – in China, Vietnam, Cuba – the policy was that inspired by the CPC.
At this moment in, Vietnam is the key question: if the forces of progress, represented there by the National Liberation Front, win their battle against the invading U .S. imperialism, then, the world is likely to pass over relatively peacefully into socialism through national liberation where, this applies, i.e. we can reasonably hope to avoid a third world war. If on the other hand, the forces of resistance against U.S-imperialist invasion should be defeated, and the U.S. Should succeed in turning South Vietnam into another permanent war base in Asia, then the prospects of avoiding such a third world war would be lessened.
And yet everything suggests that the main European Communist parties, starting with the CPSU, have not understood this, are still reluctant to throw their full weight behind the Vietnamese struggle, and do not understand the need to defy the U.S. imperialist tiger, and by doing so, to show him up as the paper tiger that he really is behind all the hardware and the boastfulness. (Personally, I cannot forget my experience in the Italian campaign in 1942-3, when the U.S. were the most friendly of allies, but the most unreliable of any troops on either side when it came to fighting). It seems to me that a part of the explanation of this terrible inadequacy of the CPSU, is that they have never understood the Chinese revolution, and for this the responsibility rests partly with the previous post-Lenin leadership, not merely with the present revisionist one.
To sum up on this first contribution by Mao, the CPC has shown how to achieve the socialist revolution on a peasant basis and through a national liberation struggle – the form that the present revolutionary wave is taking throughout the non-industrialised world.
This struggle is decisive for the avoidance of a third world war. It is in every way as important to us to-day, as was the Spanish war in the 1930’s and it is similarly important that we should get this understood.
3. In the early 1930’s, in China as in Europe the dominant political line was that of seeing the “Right deviation as the main danger with the intermediate groups (as) the most dangerous enemy of the revolution”. (C.W. Vo1.4. p.184). In Europe we had our own 1929 party slogan of “class against class” i.e. sectarian isolationism; and in what was then the key European country, Germany, the denunciation of the social democrats as the “main enemy” and then the final collapse before the Nazi onslaught without a struggle. The obituary of the German communist party in 1933 was the sad novel “The Seventh Cross”, not the glorious, and valuable, fight of the Paris Commune.
But the CPC, once rid of its “leftists” Comintern representatives, who did such damage from 1931 to 1934, raised these slogan of “maximum unity against the main enemy” and there-after never deviated from this line, and proved its correctness in the most outstanding victories in practice, while the European revolution continued to meet defeat, first in Austria, then in France, then in Spain.
These defeats in Europe took place after a period of great revolutionary upsurge, released by the mainly correct new line of the 7th World’s Congress in 1935, that of “Anti-fascist unity” and the “popular front”.
But this new line – though mainly correct and a great improvement on the doctrianairism of the previous period – fell from “leftism” into a new “rightism”. (And we have to remember that during the whole of this time the central international leadership was always in the same hands.)
The European leadership failed to understand that to unite against the immediate main enemy is not enough, the working class must also maintain the fight for power to the end and never relinquish the leadership of the movement to the weak, or treacherous, hands of the bourgeoisie, whether the weakling pseudo-socialist Leon Blum in 1936, or the ambitious nationalist de Gaulle in 1945.
The CPC in its analysis of the errors of its own 1931-4 period and their long continuing consequences, points out that these errors are typical of the petty bourgeoisie in its various aspects, and they point out how closely the “leftist” errors are related to “rightist” ones, e.g., Chen Tu-Hsiu in 1927 or Wang Ming in his second period of (lesser and more localised) influence in 1941.
A British Marxist has correctly pointed out that “leftism” is simply “rightism” in a different form. Some of us have recently seen such a change of line, from extreme “leftism” to a “rightist” tailing behind a left bourgeois leadership, as if classes had been abolished overnight.
So, what emerges from all this? That the British working class has to achieve maximum unity, which here means national unity against the main enemy, U.S. imperialism, supported here by the Labour-imperialist Wilson Government. It has to mobilise all those who can be brought to join this fight, from the working class socialists who have been shocked by Wilson’s support for U.S. bombings, napalm and gas, to the national-capitalists; from car-owning skilled aircraft workers, to the industrialists who resent betrayal of their industry to U.S. capital. The Labour Left, from Mikardo to Warbey, are our natural allies for a new policy of anti-imperialism, of refusal to let our country be dragged into the abyss into which the U.S. is rushing, pulling its satellites with it.
This line of “maximum unity against the main enemy” is the one we need, and must urgently follow. It is the line for victory, for both national survival and the conquest of working class power – one being impossible without the other, as thousands of national-capitalists will ultimately understand.
Neither the CPSU nor the CPGB have been able to understand this simple solution, nor been willing to put it in to practice.
So the duty falls upon all Marxists who can see this need, to get on it.
Marx said that the philosophers had only interpreted the world, but the point was to change it. We can now say that it is time for Marxists to cease to be content to label themselves “anti-revisionist” and to get down to showing , in practice, that they are more than doctrinaires “with no practical experience of revolutionary struggle.”
Our job at present is not to initiate a revolution, but to build the party that will be able to do so. But to do this party-building, we have to show the working class, and the people generally, a line of action that they can approve and follow.
We had a recent opportunity to do so with the coincidence of the Annual Easter CND March, and the stepping up of the war in Vietnam.
The Easter march could be counted on to produce several thousands of opponents of the U.S. attack, and the attack itself was the centre of national, as well as world, attention.
Two weeks before the march, a student demonstration at the U.S. Embassy had led to 15 arrests.
So all that was needed was for any recognised political leadership to give the call for a mass demonstration at the U.S. Embassy, to follow the Trafalgar Square meeting.
What happened? A small Marxist group finding itself deprived of any possibility of a call on a national basis by the policy of exclusion practised by the two existing national anti-revisionist groups (the CPSG and the LPO) decided nevertheless to put out a leaflet on the march calling for an Easter Monday demonstration at the U.S. Embassy. Unfortunately, not having yet sufficient confidence in themselves, they only run off 700 stencilled sheets instead of 10,000 or 20,000 printed ones, while the “Committee of 100”, with a wrong line but plenty of self confidence and a good organisation put out thousands of a well printed pamphlet (not merely a leaflet), calling for a sit down outside Downing Street.
This led to a great campaign by the CND leaders, supported by the Communist party, during the march (on the Sunday ) against any demonstration, and finally 500-1,000 young anarchists went into Whitehall to a Downing street walled off by serried ranks of police, and there a dozen or so “Committee of 100” supporters sat down. A fizzle, though better than the Daily Worker report.
Looking back, there can be little doubt that a well prepared and well organised call Embassy demonstration would have had a success resounding, like the kicks on the U.S Ambassadors car in New Zealand, through the world’s press, and putting those who called it at once in a position to build up their forces and develop further action, particularly in relation to the C.P and its Congress due in November, If we are to have any effect on that Congress, we must give the party membership the opportunity to realise that there is an alternative to the present policy of passivity. This cannot be done by sitting still and merely making calls in FORUM.
Mao Tse-Tung did not sit in Shanghai and call on the party to support the peasants, he went to Hunan, and his report is a model of concrete reporting, as well as concretely based leads for action.
Correct analysis of a situation, and a correct mass line to deal with it, can only show themselves to be correct in action. In 1920 the correctness of the “Hands off Russia’” campaign was shown by the action in the “Jolly George” munitions ship – the loading of it was successfully sabotaged, which brought the British support of Poland to an end, and so brought peace to the young Soviet Russia.
This sort of practical success only comes under working class Marxist leadership. Only dockers could actually do the job on the “Jolly George“.
It is our duty in the immediate future, with the Party Congress due in November to swing the party, or as much of it as possible, over from the present policy of passivity (end thus of actual, even if not intended, betrayal) to a policy of revolutionary activity, which has nothing at all in common with “leftism” of any kind.
Such a policy’s correctness will show itself precisely by its success, by the mass influence it achieves precisely as it did, in entirely different circumstances, in 1917 in Russia, in China through out their long revolution up to to-day, and in Cuba since 1956.
Some of us saw such a mass development for a short while in Spain in 1936-37 and can ever forget it. It is that that keeps the Vietnamese fighting ever more successfully against apparently overwhelming odds and that will enable an intelligent and determined Marxist party to convert Britain from being the chief support of U.S. Imperialism, to its determined adversary, and from a weak, second class imperialist power, to a strong anti-imperialist one.
4. The theory of proletarian dictatorship is the other main development Of Marxism by Mao Tse-Tung and the CPC that is of great practical importance for us in Britain, for developing a Party programme that will enable us at last to achieve a mass basis, without which no Communist Party can begin to do the work it exists for.
The theory of proletarian dictatorship begins with Marx.
Conformists who are neither critical nor revolutionary, but merely apply to themselves a Marxist label, tend to regard Marx as above all the propounder of “historical materialism”, by which they often mean that pseudo-Marxist opposite of Marxism, which also goes by the name of “economic determinism”. Marx’s actual analysis of history is, that not economics directly, but the class struggle, with an economic basis, has determined history – but even this is not what Marx himself claimed as his specific personal contribution to science, pointing out that bourgeois historians had already begun to see the class struggle. Marx claimed as his special contribution the need for proletarian dictatorship as the necessary condition for the development of Socialism.
This contribution to socialist theory, which Marx himself claimed as fundamental, was necessarily left by him in an embryonic state, since the only actual experience of such a dictatorship was the Paris Commune, that only lasted 3 months. The second International in any case hastened to bury the baby.
Lenin brought this Marxist theory back to life with his “State and Revolution”, written, it must be remembered, before the October Revolution. And then the Russian Revolution itself became the practical application and experience of this theory.
Lenin himself died before the revolution could achieve the decisive change from merely political or state power to economic power, to socialism. This was carried out under Stalin, with the slogan of developing socialism in one country, which history has proved to have been decisively correct. This was the first historical example of the current slogan initiated by the CPC that each country and people should depend for their revolutionary development primarily on themselves. This alone would ensure Stalin a permanent and honoured place in the history of mankind.
Thereafter however, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in its first working-out in human history, developed serious errors, for which Stalin has been accused by his successors of being alone responsible. This is a matter which the future will decide upon. We, whose job is not to write history, but to make it, have the primary duty of learning the necessary lessons, both positive and negative, from this until-recently-unique historical development.
First it is necessary to dissociate ourselves entirely from the Krushchevian unprincipled attack on Stalin personally, without any principled criticism of his policies, whether correct or incorrect. In the opinion of every thinking Communist and pretty certainly in that of the great majority in the CPSU, “Stalin’s mistakes take second place to his achievements”.
Only by adopting an objective and analytical attitude can we correctly appraise Stalin and all those comrades who made similar mistakes under his influence, and correctly deal with their mistakes. Since these mistakes were made by communists in the course of their work, what is involved is a question of right versus wrong within communist ranks, but not an issue of ourselves versus the enemy in the class struggle. We need therefore to adopt a comradely attitude towards these people and should not treat them as enemies. We should defend what is correct in their work while criticising their mistakes and should not blankly denounce everything they did. Their mistakes have a social and historical background and can be attributed especially to their ideology and understanding. In just the same way, such mistakes may also occur in the work of other comrades. That is why, having recognised the mistakes and undertaken their correction, it is necessary that we regard them as grave lessons, as an asset that can be used for heightening the political consciousness of all communists, thus preventing the recurrence of such mistakes and advancing the cause of communism. If, on the contrary, one takes a completely negative attitude to these comrades who made mistakes, treats them with hostility and discriminates against them by labelling them this and that kind of element, it will not help them to learn the lesson they should learn. Moreover, since this means confusing the two entirely different types of contradictions – that of right versus wrong within our own ranks and that of ourselves versus the enemy – it will only help the enemy in his attack on the communist ranks and attempts at disintegrating the communist position. [H.E.D.P. p. (blank in original)] (EROL Note: The Chinese article, “The Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”)
I have quoted this paragraph in full because it will repay very careful attention, and indeed summarises the essential difference in approach to this central question of “political mistakes”, between the CPSU on the one hand, and the CPC on the other. For the CPSU from 1935 onwards, “mistakes” among communists were treated as “an issue of ourselves versus the enemy in the class struggle”. And this continued even after Stalin’s death, e.g. Beria was posthumously accused of having been an “imperialist agent”.
The CPC on the other hand since 1934 has been most careful to avoid terrorism. And it must be remembered that the administrative experience and responsibility of the CPC dates from 1927, not merely from 1949: they had a population of hundreds of thousands under their control from about 1931 onwards , increasing to millions long before the final defeat of Chiang. In the period 1931-34 i.e. that under Comintern influence, before the establishment of Mao’s leadership, in order to carry their ideas thoroughly into effect, exponents of the ’Left’ line of the third period [1931-34] invariably attached, irrespective of the circumstances, damaging labels to all comrade in the Party who, finding the erroneous line impracticable, expressed doubts about it, disagreed with it, resented it, supported it only lukewarmly or executed it only half-heartedly – labels like ’Right opportunism’, ’line of the rich peasants’, ’line of conciliation’ and ’double-dealing’, waged ’relentless struggles’ against them, dealt them ’merciless blows’ or even waged ’inner-party struggles’ against them as if they were criminals and enemies, Such erroneous inner-Party struggles became a regular means for a leader or follower of the ’Left’ line to heighten his own prestige, fulfil his own desire and intimidate the Communist cadres. Within the Party it violated the fundamental principle of democratic centralism, eliminated the democratic spirit of criticism and self-criticism, turned Party discipline into mechanical regulation, fostered tendencies towards blind obedience and parrotry and thus jeopardised and obstructed the developments of vigorous and creative Marxism. In combination with such a mistaken inner-Party struggle was a sectarian cadre’s policy. Instead of regarding the veteran cadres as valuable assets of the Party, the sectarians persecuted, punished and deposed large numbers of these veterans in the central and local organisations, comrades experienced in work and closely connected with the masses but who proved uncongenial to them and were willing to follow them blindly or chime in with them. They did not give proper education to new cadres, nor did they handle the promotion of such cadres seriously (especially cadres of working-class origin), but carelessly replaced veterans in the central and local organisations with new cadres or cadres coming from other places who either lacked experience in work or had no close contact with the masses, but who proved congenial to them and did nothing but follow them blindly and chime in with them. In this manner they not only disheartened the old cadres but also spoiled the new ones. In many places, where sectarianism in cadres policy was further complicated by an erroneous anti-espionage policy, large numbers of good comrades were wrongly indicted and unjustly punished; this led to the most lamentable losses inside the Party. Such sectarian errors weakened the Party to an immense extent by severing its higher bodies from the lower and occasioning many other anomalies. This enlarged plenary session of the Central Committee hereby declares: Any penalty or any part of it that was wrongly inflicted upon comrades by the erroneous lines should be rescinded according to the merits of the case. Comrades who, upon investigation, are proved to have died as victims of a miscarriage of justice should be absolved from false accusations, reinstated as party members and for ever remembered by all comrades.” [MTT CW IV pp. 206-7]
Might this not almost be a description of the period of the Yeshovshina in the CPSU 1936-38? The point I want to make is that the CPC had its own period of leftist errors committed under the influence of the international leadership of that time. To overcome the effects of these errors it had to make prolonged and strenuous efforts, but these never led to the kind of abdication of Marxism that characterised the 20th Congress, and even more the 22nd.
Here was a model that the CPSU might have followed in 1956. But only a Marxist leadership in a Marxist party can go in for such self-criticism; the CPSU has preferred to go on boasting, to claim that all is always right in the present, only the past was wrong, and then wrong always because of someone else’s fault - whether Stalin or Khrushchov. So Stalin was increasingly denounced as if his work had been entirely negative, while in fact, in both its home and its foreign policy, it is clear that the Soviet Government is approximating more and more to a bourgeois outlook.
For us in Britain merely to denounce this development as “revisionism” is liable, even from fellow members of the Party, to raise the question “So what?”, we have to analyse the causes of this sliding away from Marxism towards a bourgeois-liberalism, from socialism back towards capitalism. We cannot do this if we merely denounce CPSU policy since the 20th Congress, without considering what went before as a cause of what developed after.
And this is where a correct line of criticism, in the post-Stalin era, provides us with just the guide we need for a historical criticism of the post-20th Congress CPSU line.
In 1956 the CPC published two statements “on the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat” and followed this up in 1957 with “on the correct handling of contradictions among the people”.
These are basic theoretical statements which are as directly relevant for us today as Lenin’s “Imperialism” and “State and Revolution” were in the era of the Russian revolution. Every Marxist has to read and study them. I cannot attempt to summarise them here, but only to say that in my opinion these are the Marxist criticism of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Stalin era. That they will be amplified in the future is to be expected. But they provided in essence the criticism required. That Stalin made most serious errors is not in question. These errors have to be examined not from a bourgeois-liberal, but from a working-class-revolutionary standpoint – not in order to hide anything, but in order to make clear the lesson they have to teach us, who are not and do not want to be bourgeois-liberals, but are and want to be Marxists, capable of bringing our country forward from capitalism into socialism – something that bourgeois-liberals cannot and do not want to do.
However, it has to be added that the post-Stalin CPSU leadership has not criticised Stalin too much, but on the contrary that it has attacked and abused Stalin personally precisely in order to avoid a political criticism of his policies, in order on the contrary to continue and to worsen the chauvinist and capitulationist tendencies of Stalin’s later years, while discarding that part of Stalin’s policy which was attempting, even though wrongly, to maintain the Soviet Union in the direction of socialism.
In a word, we cannot thoroughly criticise present CPSU policy unless we are prepared to pursue the criticism back to its origins, to way before both the 20th Congress and Stalin’s death.
And it is absolutely necessary that we should feel able to criticise present CPSU policy without restriction. One of the decisive weaknesses of the British, as of the other European Communist Parties, has been readiness to act as followers of the Moscow baton. It is necessary that Marxists in every country – as Castro has pointed out, should think and act for themselves. We should under no circumstances seek the guidance of another baton, however enlightened.
As to the general policy of avoiding punishment and terrorism, and concentrating instead in every way on winning the widest possible support, the whole history of the CPC from 1935 right up to now is witness; all eye-witness accounts from post-revolutionary China stress this, so that it has become common knowledge to all who bother to find out. One could not unfairly compare the fate of Nicholas II and. his family – which no socialist could possibly hold against the Soviet Union – with the remarkable career of the last Ching Emperor, now an active citizen of the People’s Republic, and an enthusiastic convert to People’s Democracy. Their respective fates may be seen as symbolic of how much the second historical experience of the proletarian dictatorship has been an advance on the first.
The central point I want to stress is that it is our urgent duty to bring acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only road to socialism back into its proper place at the centre of Marxist teaching; that to do this we have to achieve mass acceptance of this idea; and that to achieve such mass acceptance among the British working class, we have to use every argument available to us, and most especially the fullest unrestricted historical criticism, as the CPC correctly started to do in 1956-57.
Marxism has nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing that we need to hide. But there must also be complete frankness, if we are to succeed.
There were grave deviations from Marxism in the policy of both the Comintern and the CPSU before the 20th Congress. To develop a correct, effective mass line in Britain today, to win the thousands both inside and outside the Party who have not been corrupted by either political opportunism, or this period of temporary capitalist affluence, we have to build afresh without respect of persons.