Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Manchester Marxist-Leninist Group

Statement to the JACML

First Issued: January 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Two lines on unification.

Since commencing our participation in JAC, and particularly in the light of the criticisms made by working class comrades at the last meeting, we have felt it necessary to re-examine the nature of JAC and our participation in it.

As a result of this, we present below – in relation to a general assessment of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain and its present tasks – firstly, a self-criticism of the basis on which we began participating in the meetings, and secondly, a criticism of the nature and form of JAC itself. This has helped us to clarify for ourselves, and so too, we hope, for others, the failure of the meetings to show any substantial progress or make any significant contribution to the development of Marxism-Leninism in Britain, and also, our own inability to participate fully in the discussion and organisation of JAC.

1. General assessment of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain.

The principal features of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain at it present stage of development are: (a) its existing weakness amongst the working class – its inability to mobilise workers around even minor political issues; and (b) its state of disunity as a movement. There are then two aspects to the further development of Marxism-Leninism in Britain: the development of political work amongst the working class and the unification of the movement. The task that faces us is the transformation of the movement into a real proletarian vanguard within the working class -a genuine communist party, leading the struggles of the working class against imperialism in Britain, towards socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Broadly speaking, within the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain, there are two lines or perspectives on how’ this transformation can be achieved.

The dominant tendency in the movement in the past has placed the priority on party-building. Numbers of Marxist-Leninist parties or party-building organisation were set up as if the formation of a strong organisation would win the workers in Britain to Marxism-Leninism. At best, unity within these organisations was based around the attempt to produce general political lines, developed through internal debate or ideological struggle, with the aim of subsequently taking these to the workers and ’testing them in practice’, that is, developing practice within the working class on the basis of winning support for these lines, for the particular organisation and so for Marxism-Leninism in Britain.

This clearly represents total opportunism towards the working class and its struggles. Past experience has shown that this tendency has never achieved anything more than statements of the most general, abstract and dogmatic kind which exhort the workers to socialism but fail to sum up their actual experiences of struggle and guide them in any way.

Recently there has been a new trend amongst those in the Marxist-Leninist movement outside of these organisations, to attempt to overcome the weakness of the movement by seeking unity through increased interaction and discussion. The move to form JAC was a part of this. But it is vital to learn from the incorrect practices of the past, which not only placed organisational unity before political unity, but in so doing, separated the whole problem of unification and the development of political lines from the problem of the integration of the Marxist-Leninist movement with the working class and its struggles.

The Marxist-Leninist movement is based in the main amongst the petty-bourgeoisie. To say that Marxism-Leninism is the ideology of the working class does not absolve us from this class basis nor alter the fact that on the whole we work predominantly amongst the petty-bourgeoisie and have limited political practice amongst the working class. In saying this, we are not criticising any group or organisation or ourselves in particular. It is rather a statement of objective fact. The existing fragmentation of the movement into small and localised groups is a manifestation of its petty-bourgeois basis. A proletarian organisation is after all a communist party. Under these circumstances, when as a movement as a whole, we lack a serious implantation within the working class and are thus limited in our practice in the class struggle, attempts to strengthen the movement through seeking the unification of the small groups around matters of principle or strategy, that is, on the basis of ’theory first’, are premature: they could tend to consolidate the petty-bourgeois basis of the movement, producing in the name of theory a series of dogmas, in abstraction from the real conditions of class struggle.

On the contrary, these conditions of existence of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain necessitate its unification and strengthening through the development of political work amongst the working class. Increasing our ability to take up the actual and immediate struggles of workers and summing up these experiences through the application of Marxist-Leninist principles in relation to the overall class struggle against imperialism, lays the concrete conditions upon which we can develop the unity of the movement.

Through this process of proletarianisation of the movement, unification in the formation of a party will be both made possible and necessitated on a genuine and principled basis, that is, en concrete political lines determined primarily by the practice of the working class struggle and the political role of Marxist-Leninists within it.

Thus the main task facing Marxist-Leninists in Britain at this stage is integration with the working class and its struggles. The theoretical and practical development of Marxism-Leninism cannot be simply seen in terms of the unification of the existing groups along political lines, when as a movement as a whole we face this task. We say this despite the fact that any groups have working class members active in trade unions, etc. Nevertheless, not to undervalue the important role of workers in the Marxist-Leninist movement, we see the proletarianisation of the movement not so much in terms of the recruitment of workers to the small groups which are after all basically petty-bourgeois forms of organisation, as the application of Marxist-Leninist organising and guiding the actual struggles of the workers. It is the problem of developing this kind of work we believe is common to the Marxist-Leninist movement in general.

Our experience of participating in the JAC meetings, not only clarified for us the contradiction between the two perspectives of the development of Marxism-Leninism in Britain, but confirmed the correctness of the view on the necessity to integrate Marxist-Leninist principles within the working class, seeking a unification of the movement only through the accomplishment of this task. Initiatives in this direction can only be taken by the local groups, which, whilst the localised nature is a reflection of the fact that the main task of integration with the working class has yet to be fulfilled, precisely because of this local nature, can unite Marxist-Leninists in an area around the practical tasks of (a) re-orientating the campaigns initiated from their petty-bourgeois base and taking them to the workers; and (b) developing new activities most likely to further integration, supporting and learning from particular struggles, etc. In this way the local groups can begin to transform their petty-bourgeois basis and develop political work amongst the working class.

2. Self-criticism by the MMLG in relation to its participation in JAC.

Although we viewed the development of Marxism-Leninism in Britain in this way and in the main had a correct perspective on the question of party-building, the limitations of national meetings of Marxist-Leninists and the importance of developing political work in the localities, our decision to participate in JAC reflected a tendency to glorify the local groups. We tended to overestimate the degree of meaningful exchange that could take place between the groups around their common experiences and problems of developing political work. We failed to fully face up to the petty-bourgeois nature of the groups and their experiences, and the fact that the task of integration with the working class requires the transformation of the groups themselves. This requires reliance not on the experience of others in a similar situation, but rather on political work with the working class.

Underestimating the petty-bourgeois nature of the movement, we incorrectly assessed the relationship between theory and practice. In relation to JAG, our position was essentially dualist: although we thought it necessary to centre discussions around the practice of the groups, we also thought we could benefit from discussion of theoretical questions posed to the Marxist-Leninist movement nationally and internationally. We failed to appreciate the limitations imposed on such discussion by our own limitations in relation to the working class and its struggles in Britain. Our experience in the JAC meetings proved the error of our expectations.

3. Criticism of the nature and form of JAC.

According to the aims and principles of the JAC-ML adopted at the last meeting ’...the major lines of demarcation separating the Marxist-Leninists from the revisionists, Trotskyists and all other anti-Marxist political forces are of far greater importance at present than the differences of line amongst Marxist-Leninists and should be emphasised to unite Marxist-Leninists. Having the interests of the people and the overall political situation in mind, the Marxist-Leninists CAN and MUST unite and work together on the basic points of agreement and gradually solve the differences between them thought the practice of the class struggle.

This proposal for unity in our view, is not based on an objective assessment of Marxism-Leninism in Britain, but rather on a subjective desire for unity deriving from the present weakness of the movement. Basically, it separates the question of unification from the question of integration with the working class. From this statement there is apparently no reason for Marxist-Leninists to be disunited it is only divide by small group mentality, sectarianism, etc. In fact, the disunity of the movement is an effect of its petty-bourgeois nature, of its weakness within the working class whose struggle is the basis of Marxist-Leninist unity. No amount of criticism or self-criticism of our errors, typical of petty-bourgeois politics, can change the relationship between the small groups on the one hand and the working class on the other. It can only produce a new series of dogmas about unproletarian styles of work, learning from the masses, etc.

Only through the firm integration of the Marxist-Leninist movement within the working class will the outlook of Marxist-Leninists and the basis of the movement be transformed and the errors of sectarianism, small group mentality, arrogance, etc., be overcome. On the other hand, experience has shown that the JAC meetings only tended to consolidate the petty-bourgeois nature of the movement, bringing out its worst features: dogmatism, academicism, vacillation around matters of principle, discussions of issues in abstract from practice – all an effect of lack of integration with the working class. If anything, this had the effect of obstructing the involvement of workers in Marxist-Leninist politics.

So long as the question of unification is separated from the question of integration with the working class, and is based on seeking agreement between the Marxist-Leninist groups as they exist now on political issues, to be presented to the working class as a fait accompli – criticisms of Marxist-Leninists setting themselves up as ’self-appointed generals of the working class’ are entirely justifiable. On the contrary, our ability to lead depends on our ability to take up the actual struggles of the working class and lead them forward through the concrete application of Marxist-Leninist principles. How else can we as Marxist-Leninists differentiate ourselves as a political force from the other so called leaders of the working class, as JAC suggests we must?

The task of building a vanguard communist party is not an abstract one but one determined by conditions specific to Britain – the way in which imperialism in Britain has divided the working class and affected its political development, the development of social democracy and the role of the Labour Party and the CPGB as so-called organisations of the working class. In fact, to understand the existing weakness of Marxism-Leninism within the working class it is necessary to consider these factors. The se-called leaders of the working class cannot be displaced by declaring a Marxist-Leninist communist party: our task to reconstruct the vanguard of the working, class can only be accomplished through tackling the forces of disunity at work within the struggles of the working class in the practice of the struggles.

4. JAC and the question of theory.

Experience in the meetings showed our inability to develop unity through discussions of theoretical questions or political line. In these discussions, we were unable to develop our understanding of the main contradictions determining the class struggle and tasks facing the working class in socialist revolution in Britain, and so we could not take a firm position on any issue. We could only vacillate. This was because our perspective on the strategy for revolution in Britain is only piecemeal and, far from being derivable a priori from our Marxist-Leninist principles, is in fact limited by our own standpoint in the class struggle. Theoretical discussion cannot be based on the political practice of the groups as they stand but on the political practice of the working class and the role of Marxist-Leninists in this and so can only be developed by developing our practice amongst the working class.

This bears out in relation to the suggestion that one of the main activities of JAC should be to produce common leaflets. Given the limits imposed by our practice so far amongst the working class, such leaflets could not reflect a common agreement on the practical issues involved but would only tend to re-produce statements of a general, abstract and hence dogmatic kind. For leaflets to be anything more than this, they would have to reflect the work of an organisation playing a role in the struggle and so capable of analysing the concrete issues involved.

Our inability to develop concrete political discussion in the JAC meetings was particularly clearly demonstrated in the discussion on the governments’ public expenditure cuts, where the starting point was not the struggles of the working class against the cuts and the questions raised by these struggles, but rather an explanation of the ’facts’: statistics concerning productive and unproductive labour. The means to transforming this kind of error does not lie in presenting papers in a different form but in transforming our relation to the class struggle.

As to the significance of the much-acclaimed 7 basic points around which we are supposed to unite – these in fact failed to resolve major points of disagreement that arose in the discussion of Soviet social imperialism, but were designed to accumulate all points of view, contain all vacillation, in an opportunistic attempt to hold JAG together and keep the meetings going. In other words, they aimed at the lowest common denominator of agreement in a subjective desire for unity, rather than an advancement of our understanding and position.

5. Towards unification.

Criticism of JAC concerning the lack of discipline, academicism, inconsistent discussion, failure to stick to the agenda, etc., do not get to the root of the problem. It these were the cause of JAC’s inadequacies then they could be corrected and the meetings continue improved. But in our view, attempts to seek unity on the basis of ’theory first’ – that is, around the production of general political lines in separation form the work of integrating Marxism-Lenininsm with the working class, only tend to consolidate the petty-bourgeois basis of the movement and are bound to fail. For the reasons argued in this document, the MMLG does not consider meetings along the lines of the aims and principles of JAC serve to develop the unification of the Marxist-Leninist movement. We therefore withdraw from all future meetings.

A genuine land principled unification of the Marxist-Leninist movement can only be achieved through the process of its proletarianisation and integration with the working class -a genuine unification of the movement as a whole, not of two on three sects, and a principled unification around the political practice of the class struggle in Britain. What sort of meetings between Marxist-Leninists promote the development of such unification at this stage? In the past, we have taken part in discussions with other Marxist-Leninists on particular areas of common political work. These we feel have been of benefit and can be developed in the future, paying particular attention to the concrete practice of integration with the working class. Such discussion cannot be conducted within the general framework of meetings like JAC, but the specific type of co-operation or discussion is determined in each case, by the nature of the campaign, organisation or struggle in question. Since the genuine unification of the movement requires the development of political work amongst the working class which will transform the petty- bourgeois local groups and the nature of the movement as a whole, meetings between Marxist-Leninists should not be approached from the point of view of promoting organisational or political unity or the groups as they stand. On the contrary, by increasing the co-operation and political discussion between Marxist-Leninists on the basis of developing specific activities amongst the working class, such meetings would aid the unification of the movement in helping the localised and limited practices of Marxist-Leninists progress towards a genuine national, that is, class practice.

We look forward to continued co-operation between ourselves and other Marxist-Leninists in practical work and discussion on the development of specific activities amongst the working class and for our part will actively promote this where ever possible.