First Published: FORUM for Marxist-Leninist Inner-Party Struggle, No. 1, April 1964.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Historically speaking there has always been left and right opportunism within the working class movement. This is why Lenin and Stalin spent so much time in the struggle against these. One cannot assume that with the death of Lenin and Stalin opportunism also died. Indeed the very opposite is the case. The opportunists now find the courage to make further, more vicious attempts to disrupt the working class movement from within. History confirms that they have always done so. It is no surprise, therefore, that American imperialism decided to increase its economic and military help to the right wing opportunist Tito. Nor was it surprising when Kennedy and MacMillan rushed Harriman and Hailsham to Moscow to sign a partial test ban treaty, at a time when the delegates of the C.P.C. and the C.P.S.U. were negotiating t he differences within the working class movement. Nor was it surprising that the C.P.C. and the C.P.S U, failed to come to any understanding, while on the other hand everything went smoothly between Khrushchov and the representatives of imperialism, to the extent even that Khrushchov jovially asked the imperialists to sign the blank paper first and then “negotiate”!
What is the source of opportunism then? It has always been known that opportunism is the product of petty bourgeois characteristics that impose themselves on the working class movement. It is therefore necessary first of all to isolate the distinct class characteristics of both the working class and of the middle class and thus become aware of the vicious source of opportunism.
The working class is the class most exploited by the capitalists. The workers have only the manual and mental energy to sell to the capitalists to earn their daily bread. Hence such a class has nothing to lose in the revolutionary struggle against the exploiting class. They will struggle in a firm and determined manner because to the workers this struggle is a matter of life and death.
The working class of today work collectively in large factories. Hundreds and thousands of them work together under the same conditions and exploited by the same capitalists. Hence the nature of their daily work imposes upon them the necessity to work in a collective manner. Moreover, modern advanced industry means that the work of a factory has to be highly organised and a division of labour has become necessary so that the various processes can be carried out efficiently. Thus the environment of the workers teaches them to work in an organised manner, whether in trade unions or in political parties.
The workers are dealing every day with highly complicated machines. They have to be intelligent and skilled to be able to manipulate this machinery. Hence in their political activity they exercise the same high degree of skill in struggle against their class enemy.
The workers possess nothing, hence they have nothing to hide from their fellow workers, nor can they be snobbish. In their work they see that they have to be level-headed and cooperative, thus in their political struggle they do not try to dominate, nor do they insist on personal ambitions, but set a fine example of cooperation and comradeship.
Dialectics teach us that our ideas and hence our political activities are a direct reflection of our material and economic conditions. It is these material and economic conditions what make the working class able to lead all the oppressed people in the struggle against their enemy the capitalist class.
The above characteristics are those of the working class and not of the middle class, and it is the working class and not the middle class which is capable of being in the vanguard of the struggle. What then are the characteristics of the middle class that render it unfit to take a leading part in the struggle? Here again, these characteristics are the direct reflection of middle class economic and material conditions.
The bulk of the middle class consist of shopkeepers, commissioners and agents for large capitalist firms, who by the nature of their connection both with the capitalist class, from whom they buy their goods, and with the working class, to whom they sell these goods, try at one and the same time, to satisfy both the workers and the capitalists. This is the source of their wavering, Of course the lower middle class finds itself suffering just like its working class fellows and thus it leans towards the working class, but at the same time it would like the workers to follow its ”clever methods”, The upper middle class have the ambition of catching up with the capitalists and hence they prefer to be lackeys of the capitalists rather than to work with the “untouchables”.
In a political struggle between the workers and the capitalists, the middle class can win and lose economically. If the working class is winning, then the middle class wants to be on the winning side and hence they indulge in ultra left-wing activities to assure the workers of their faithfulness to the cause. If, however, the working class is suffering, then the middle class knows that the capitalists can them punish them in more than one way, hence we see the middle class disassociate itself from the revolutionary struggle. These are the two sources of left-wing and right-wing opportunism in the middle class.
In their daily Iife the middle class are always competing with one another. Each one wants the biggest number of customers or wants to make the largest amount of money. The way in which a middle class person earns his money does not in most cases depend upon any cooperation with his fellow middle class. On the contrary, in many cases one middle class person becomes richer at the expense of another one. This has led middle class people to be in a state of rivalry with one another. Each one wants to achieve his own individual ambition. Hence we find jealousy, suspicion, individualism and refusal no cooperate or to be organised.
Politically too, the middle class individual looks on a political party as a means of achieving his personal ambitions. When such a middle class person enters the working class party he tries to ensure that the working class party will be a medium for achieving his individual political ambitions. His first aim is thus to reach the leadership of the working class party. He wants to make sure that he, the middle class person, and not a worker is in the leadership.
In a word, the material and economic conditions of the middle class cause the members of this class to waver from the extreme left to the extreme right. To be snobbish, to believe in petty, personal competition, to enjoy imposing themselves and to cherish the ambition to lead, while refusing discipline and lacking in cooperation.
This is why the middle class exercise these habits in their political activities. This is why when they infiltrate into the working class party they are the sources of opportunism.