Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

Refute the Right Opportunist Line in Party Building

Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 4 November 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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EROL Note: The following letter was written in response to the request of the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist) that other Marxist-Leninist groups respond to the call for a Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting on September 9-10, 1978. It deals with two joint documents by the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist) and the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Communist League of Britain issued in relation to that meeting. These documents were the “Draft Organisational Line for Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting” and the “Joint Communique of 15th July. 1978.”

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Dear Comrades,

In a letter of 17th July the WPS repeated a proposal from the NCG [Nottingham Communist Group – EROL] that each participating organisation should prepare and circulate a statement outlining their position on the question of Marxist-Leninist unity to other participants in advance of the meeting.

We welcome the increased attention to the need for unity in the Marxist-Leninist movement and the need for serious discussion and debate between Marxist-Leninist organisations. At the same time it is only inevitable that in the course of such exchanges certain organisations should for a time put forward views that others consider to be seriously incorrect and harmful to building the genuine revolutionary Communist Party of the working class. To clarify our position we wish in this letter to concentrate on what we see as serious federalist errors in the organisational proposals pat forward by the WPSML and, the RMLCL and serious right opportunist and even revisionist errors in the political line proposed by the WPSML and RMLCL as shown in their joint communique of 15 July 1978.

Before dealing with these two main points we will briefly re-iterate or clarify our position on some other issues.

We must repeat that while the proposals for a Marxist-Leninist consultative meeting was not inevitably federalist it contained grave dangers of federalism. This is being shown in practice. We cannot build the revolutionary Communist Party by uniting all those who call themselves Marxist- Leninists. We must in the first place attempt to unite the genuine Marxist-Leninists. Practice shows that in order to make real progress in unity on a principled basis there has to be a process of mutual selection, however much this may be represented as arrogance. The only unity that will live is unity that is built around a common ideological and political line among comrades whose record shows they will not indulge in individualism or small group mentality.

The range of views of those organisations invited to the consultative meeting is far too large for a principled unity that will live to be established in the immediate future. We would oppose slipping into a liberal proposal for further Marxist-Leninist consultative meetings (in the plural) with the same participants because such a proposal, however innocuously presented, would have slipped into setting up a federalist organisation.

We agree with the idea that there should be two representatives from each organisation at this forthcoming meeting and we hope they will be authoritative and leading comrades in each case. We criticise the proposal that in addition other comrades can come as observers as ultra- democratic, liberal and impractical and which opens the door to the type of demagoguery which we have witnessed in the past.

Chairing: in the interests of orderly debate which will promote conditions in which unity can be strengthened around correct lines, we think that it important that the meeting is chaired firmly and wisely by an authoritative and mutually acceptable comrade. We have proposed Comrade X as a veteran communist from the organisation which convened this meeting.

Agenda: We understand that the proposed agenda is: Saturday morning, political line; Saturday afternoon, organisational proposals for Party- building; Sunday morning, discussion of practical work. We propose that the agenda deals only with political line and organisational line. It is clear that discussion will be centred around the line of the WPS-RMLCL’s joint communiqué and joint organisational proposals. We see a danger of federalism if the meeting as constituted discusses practical work and also believe that the time should be made available instead for winning greater clarity on the political and organisational lines.


The essence of the RCL’s position on organisational steps to Party-building is that unity must be won around an agreed ideological and political line. That done, the comrades concerned must overcome any feelings of small-group mentality and unite in a single organisation practicising democratic centralism. That is the individual must be subordinated to the organisation, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower level is subordinate to the higher level and the entire membership is subordinate to the central committee. No organisational unity can live if it has skated round the need to win common thinking on major ideological and political issues and if it dodges the question of combating and guarding against small group mentality and individualism.

At present we are concentrating our efforts on winning unity with the Communist Workers Movement some time in 1979. In view of our limited resources we believe this is the best way decisively to speed up the movement towards Party-building round a ’correct ideological and political line. Both organisations are learning from each other and there has already been valuable progress.

The RCL does not rule out a unity committee of more than one organisation, similar to that organised by the October League before the founding of the CPML (US). But in accordance with our general line on unity we believe for such a committee not to stagnate in federalism it is essential that there are three preconditions: I) that all participating organisations genuinely proceed from the desire for unity and have settled accounts with small-group mentality; 2) that all participating organisations already subscribe to a fairly substantial minimum level of ideological and political unity; 3) that there is an acknowledged centre of revolutionary leadership.

The RCL’s views are put forward in more detail in recent issues of ’Revolution’. We ask comrades to study them and to support what is correct in them and criticise what is wrong.

It is clear that the discussion at the Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting on organisational steps to Party-building will focus on the “Draft Organisational line” proposed by the WPSML and the RMLCL. In our opinion this line is basically a federalist one and in practice will set up a federation. Here are some of the major points which we will try to elaborate at the Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting.

Firstly, the line does not put primary emphasis on winning strong unity around a correct ideological and political line. The opening preamble is a very minimum statement of line while paragraph (II) merely says that the new organisation will consist of all Marxist-Leninist groups and organisations “which accept the general line”. The need to select which groups are to unite on the basis of ideological and political line and how trustworthy their past practice has been, is glossed over and it would be difficult to bar from the new organisation groups that have little real unity of political line and which have little real desire to settle accounts with small group mentality, and individual individualism.

There is no statement about the crucial need to battle for conviction for the basic principles of democratic centralism against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois individualism. Paragraph II speaks of setting up a leading central organ (presumably a newspaper) “based upon democracy”, not “based upon democratic centralism”. The provisional Central Committee is to consist of leading cadres from the different Marxist-Leninist groups “on the basis of equality”. This last phrase is a hallmark of federalism because it defends the special interests of the small groups by giving them equal representation. By contrast the only Central Committee that could be authoritative would be one that consisted of cadres who had proved to all their comrades their readiness to represent the interest not of one or another group but to represent the interests of the working class. A Central Committee as proposed by the WPS and the RMLCL could not have authority because authority cannot by conferred it can only be won. And if the Central Committee has not won its authority no participating organisation will have the conviction – to apply the democratic centralist principle that the lower level must be subordinate to the higher level. The component organisations will not act like branches of a national organisation subordinate to the Central Committee of that national organisation. Instead in practice they will act as component members of a federation. The leap from autonomous local small groups to subordinated branches is a qualitative leap that cannot be won by stealth – only by conscious struggle.

The rest of paragraphs II and III go on from this essentially federalist basis of the proposed organisation to talk of the setting up of a Convenor and a Secretariat. These proposals come close to looking like an authentic attempt to set up a Marxist-Leninist organisation but in the absence of having won a living unity around ideological and political line and in the absence of having won conviction for the proletarian principle of democratic-centralism against individualism and small-group mentality, these proposals will either be bureaucrat-centralist, if they succeed in being imposed, or if they crumble they will be shown to be a pious dressing on an essentially federalist foundation. Who will be Convenor off the new organisation? The words on the page give him substantial powers, but without him having won the genuine confidence of all comrades taking part in the new organisation he will not have real authority, The dangers are great that he will be forced to give leadership either by commandism or by opportunist waffle and deals with certain constituent organisations lining up against others, in short a recipe for splits!

Similarly according to the words on the page, between Central Committee meetings the Secretariat ”shall issue public statements and internal directives for the constituent organisations” (our emphasis). In the absence of having won firm unity on ideological and political line and for the proletarian principles of democratic-centralism, how could this be accepted by the constituent organisations? Again it would be a recipe for endless splits and wrangles. It would be either bureaucratic centralist or pious. In practice we suspect pious, otherwise the new organisation would split very rapidly. That is why the organisational proposals from the WPS and RMLCL should be seen as fundamentally federalist although they contain other errors as well. In practice they are most likely to set up a new federation if they set up anything at all.

Paragraph V refers to a long list of investigations to be carried out before founding the Party. Of course it is necessary to carry out investigations and to test lines in practice diligently but once again we ask comrades to learn from the negative experience of federalism that many of the comrades now in the RCL have had in the past. There is a great danger of investigations being used as an excuse by those particularly infected with small-group mentality in a federation, to postpone forever the implementation of democratic-centralism. There is after all always more to be investigated. A crucial point in the WPS-RMLCL organisational proposals is that it is not stated clearly that all the constituent organisations of the proposed organisation will maintain their separate identity until all the investigations are completed. In practice every single constituent organisation will have a veto against going forward into a united democratic-centralist organisation. Everyone can agree to unite on the basis of investigations but not everyone can agree to unite on the basis of democratic-centralism. The truth is that federations are easy to get into and difficult to get out of. (Except by a split!)

Paragraphs V and VI speak about investigations and summing up experience but make a significant error of empiricism in failing to say that these activities must be guided by the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. We must guard against both empiricism and dogmatism.

Lastly we wish to ask what name should be given to the proposed new organisation. If comrades address themselves to this question we think they will see the essentially federalist nature of the proposal.

We believe that the great majority of comrades who put forward this proposal are sincere in their desire for unity. We too desire unity and urge comrades to remember that unity that is won through yielding will perish; unity that is won through struggle will live.


Organisational unity must be based on unity around a correct ideological and political line. Comrades’ thinking must be brought into line on major questions otherwise they can’t march in step and win one victory after another. The organs of thought must be on parallel lines for the feet to march in step. Therefore to win unity of all genuine Marxist-Leninists in Britain we must concentrate on winning unity around a correct ideological and political line which comes nearest to correctly integrating the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the British revolution.

In our opinion the Manifesto of the RCLB is at present the most advanced document in the British Marxist-Leninist movement in this respect. We urge all genuine Marxist-Leninists to declare their support for it where they think it correct and to draw lines of demarcation and make criticisms where they think it wrong. The Manifesto of the RCL is the best thing we have at present on the road to hammering out the Programme of the future Party. We say this not in a spirit of boasting: 90% of the “Manifesto” is the indirect experience of the international Communist movement and if the document is strong it is strong because we conscientiously tried to study that experience and integrate with the concrete conditions of the British revolution. Also the text was strengthened through much internal struggle and debate under the guidance of democratic-centralism. The principles and policies in the Manifesto must be tested and strengthened in practice. Where it is one-sided or where we come to agree it objectively makes art opportunist error this will be corrected through criticism and self-criticism. We ask fraternal Marxist-Leninists to play their part in this process.

As far as the Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting is concerned however, it is clear that the main focus of debate on the question of political line will centre on the line of the joint communiqué of the WPSML and the RMLCL of 15th July 1978. For the sake of clarity and unity it is desirable that the consultative meeting should unfold orderly debate around this line in a manner which combines ideological struggle with ideological education.

While we appreciate that the majority of comrades who support the line of this communiqué are no doubt sincerely attempting the necessary task of integrating the theory of the three worlds with the concrete conditions of the class struggle in Britain we consider the line objectively makes a number of very serious right opportunist and even revisionist errors.

The central error is that it avoids the fact that the stage of revolution in Britain is that of socialist revolution and it denies that the principal contradiction in Britain is between the working class and the British imperialist bourgeoisie. By contrast the implicit line of the Communiqué (although it opportunistically evades saying so) is that the “stage” of the revolution in Britain is to struggle for national independence against the hegemonism of the two superpowers, and that the principal contradiction in Britain should be taken as that between the people of Britain and Soviet social-imperialism. In the international arena the line of the Communiqué implies that Soviet social-imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world rather than the correct view of the present situation that the two superpowers are the main enemies of the people of the world, with the Soviet Union the more dangerous of the two.

As Mao Tsetung argues in any complex situation in which there are many contradictions one of them plays the leading and decisive role. In Britain today does it really conform to facts to say that the contradiction between the people and Soviet social-imperialism plays the leading and decisive role? No. Events in Britain are not mainly determined by this contradiction. On the contrary, events are overwhelmingly determined rather by the contradiction between the British imperialist bourgeoisie and the working class. This is true in the international role that Britain plays too where the class nature of the British imperialist bourgeoisie determines that Britain plays a very servile role to both US imperialism and Soviet social imperialism while continuing to try to exploit and oppress the nations of the third world instead of allying with them against the two superpowers. Even from the point of view of international affairs alone we can change Britain’s position to any significant degree only if we grasp decisively as the principal contradiction the contradiction between the working class and the British imperialist bourgeoisie.

Without doubt we must also pay attention to what is at present a secondary contradiction in Britain, that between the people of Britain and the two superpowers. The correct and dialectical way to integrate the struggle against the two superpowers with the struggle against the British monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie is under present circumstances to treat the struggle for independence from the two superpowers as one important aspect of the struggle for socialist revolution, as stated in section B11 of the Manifesto of the RCLB.

By contrast the Joint Communiqué of the WPS and RMLCL makes some serious right opportunist errors in the circumstances of Britain today. Section 1 para 5 states that “...it is the basic programmatic task of Marxist- Leninist parties and organisations to fight for the broadest possible united front of all political forces, all classes, organisations and individuals” (our emphasis), to oppose the hegemonistic ambitions and plots of the two superpowers, in particular Soviet social-fascism. Later it is made clear that this united front is to be at the national as well as the international level. In other words, it is proposed to strive for a national united front which can include the imperialist bourgeoisie (and even organisations like the National front). It would be a “left “opportunist error to exclude all possibility of alliance with some sections of the bourgeoisie under certain important conditions but to put this proposal now is a severe right opportunist error. While something along these lines might be arguable in the conditions of some second world countries (that is for the Marxist-Leninists in those countries to determine) it is quite wrong in the concrete conditions of Britain in which the imperialist bourgeoisie, although very decadent, is still one of the most powerful in the world. Such a proposal uses Marxist words in a revisionist manner which robs Marxism of its revolutionary class content. After such a statement (in Paragraph 5 of Section 1 of the Joint Communiqué), merely to say ”And within this united front both at the international and national level, the proletariat must maintain its independence and initiative” so underplays the revolutionary role of proletarian class struggle as to be objectively making a revisionist error.

Section II of the Joint Communiqué lists some points in which the two organisations say the proletariat must “wage a struggle against monopoly capital for the defence of the living standards and democratic rights of the people”. Yet even within the context of a proposed united front some of the formulations make such serious revisionist errors as to spread gross illusions among the working class about Marxism and which repeat classically revisionist positions.

How can we teach the working class to fight for the “reconstruction and democratisation of the state machine”, (as it says in point a) rather than teaching them that the state machine must be smashed?

How can we suggest (as in point b) that all forms of national oppression can be eliminated under capitalism?

How can we imply (as in part c) that capitalism can expand the national economy and overcome unemployment and stagnation of production when we should be making clear that unemployment and stagnation are an inherent and inseparable part of the capitalist system, which can be overcome only when the capitalist system is overthrown by force?

How can we call (as in point d) for the democratisation of industrial enterprises and use notorious phrases about working class control over enterprises without throwing dust in the workers’ eyes to blind them to the fact that there will be true democracy for the workers and true worker’s control only when the working class holds state power as a class? This revisionist line embellished the reformist path and teaches that capitalism can be run in the interests of the working class.

How can point i) refer to the building of revolutionary and patriotic organisations of students and youth without referring first to revolutionary organisations of workers and to the need for all such organisations to be led by the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class?

All these errors rob Marxism of its revolutionary class content and serve instead the imperialist bourgeoisie.

In the next paragraph the demand is raised to “achieve relations of equality and mutual benefit” with us imperialism, a demand which in the present circumstances can only demobilise the working class from a militant and ruthless struggle against US hegemonism, as an enemy which it must fight along side its more major and immediate enemies of British imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism.

The following paragraph, after this, completely glosses over British imperialist exploitation of the Third World nations and the fact that we cannot build unity with these nations unless we struggle militantly against British imperialism as well as against superpower hegemonism. This is a social-chauvinist policy.

Similarly the sixth paragraph of section III ignores the fact that British imperialism (in alliance with US imperialism) is at present the main enemy of the Zimbabwean people and that the racist regimes of Southern Africa are agents of British and US imperialism.

To ignore this and merely call for the British government “to side clearly with African democracy and against white racism” prettifies the British imperialist bourgeoisie and objectively colludes in its exploitation of the peoples of Southern Africa.

Certainly we must grasp the great strategic theory of the Three Worlds and strive hard to apply it to our own objective circumstances. But we do not agree that it is “the” touchstone (that is the only touchstone) to distinguish genuine Marxist-Leninists from modern revisionists of all types. We most not forget the class struggle in Britain while grasping the theory of the Three Worlds. We must combine the class struggle in Britain with the class struggle internationally.

We understand that comrades in the WPS would refer to Lenin’s argument about the need to seek out forms of transition or approach to the socialist revolution and imply that a national united front against the hegemonism of the two superpowers, especially Soviet social-imperialism, is a desirable stage or substage on the road to socialist revolution. The passages in question appear to be found in Dimitrov’s speech to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International on the Fascist Offensive in 1935, in the section on the United Front Government (Red Star Press edition. August 1973. pages 97and 98) and ”Left-Wing Communism”. Peking Edition pages 96 and 97. We should be ready to debate the lessons of these passages more fully at the Marxist-Leninist Consultative Meeting. At this stage we wish to point out that Dimitrov criticises “The Right opportunists (who) have tried to establish a ’democratic intermediate stage’ lying between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of instilling into the workers the illusion of a peaceful parliamentary passage from the one dictatorship to the other.” And Lenin’s reference to “forms of transition” in “Left-Wing Communism” cannot be interpreted as an immediate stage. The theory of an intermediate stage between the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions is a revisionist theory! Furthermore, of particular relevance to us at this stage of party-building in Britain, Lenin’s argument is in the context of his distinction between the two historical tasks (of winning the class conscious vanguard of the proletariat to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and secondly, in being able to lead the masses to the new position that can ensure victory in the revolution). To attempt the five tactical manoeuvres needed in the second task before we have made a substantial amount of progress in the first task of building the Party with deep roots in the working class contains considerable dangers of right opportunism.

We were greatly concerned to see what we regard as serious right opportunist and even objectively revisionist positions adopted in the joint documents of the WPS and the RMLCL. Nevertheless errors can be corrected and be turned into good negative lessons. We hope all the genuine Marxist-Leninists involved in these errors will take our militant but comradely criticism in the spirit in which it is meant, and seriously review their political line.

Nevertheless, strongly as we would criticise the right opportunist nature of the political line of the WPS and RMLCL we hope that even if they still hold to it for the time being they will not persist with their organisational proposal which would confuse the movement with another almost certainly abortive attempt at federalism. If the WPS and the RMLCL continue to hold their political line the only principled organisational step for them to take is to proceed to unite together in a single democratic-centralist organisation (together with any other group that holds the same political line) and dissolve their existing organisations. While we couldn’t welcome such a step, it would provide the ’best conditions for all genuine members of the two organisations who have an open mind and a self-critical spirit to sum up experience and turn negative experience to good account.

Naturally however, we hope that all genuine Marxist-Leninists will repudiate both the federalist road in Party-building and the right opportunist deviation on the application of the theory of the Three Worlds.

In struggle for clarity and unity, with revolutionary greetings!

The Political Committee of the R.C.L.B.