Struggle to Build a Fine Style of Work in the League!

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 2, June 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Theory and practice are two contradictory aspects of a sing1e entity. Between theory and practice there is both struggle and unity. Although at anyone time either one or the other will be the principal aspect of the contradiction, and will therefore be the decisive aspect, the one which determines the nature of the thing and therefore the emphasis of our work, it is essential that we grasp deeply that there is also-unity between theory and practice. In Stalin’s well-known words:

“...theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illumined by revolutionary theory”. (“Foundations of Leninism”, Peking ed., p 22)

Our task therefore in building the Party and leading the revolution is to integrate the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought with the concrete practice of the British revolution. In order to do this we struggle to build a fine style of work that seeks truth from facts, practices the mass line and uses democratic-centralism.


Our main enemy at present in integrating the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought with our concrete practice is subjectivism. Subjectivism is characterised by a breach between a person’s subjective view of the world and the real objective world, and between knowledge and practice. In the final analysis, ideas are only of any use when they correspond to reality. i.e. when they accurately reflect the real world and can be used to direct practice and change the world. Such ideas are correct ideas. In the struggle to ensure that our ideas are correct ideas we must struggle against dogmatism and idealism on the one hand, and against empiricism on the other. All of these are forms of subjectivism and are therefore ways of thinking which will cause errors in our work. These errors represent different dangers for different comrades and for different levels of the League. We must be particularly vigilant for these errors catching us unawares and even taking different forms in the new situation where the League is putting increased emphasis on practice.

Dogmatism and Idealism

Marxist-Leninists in Britain, including the RCLB, are relatively divorced from the working class and have a relatively high proportion of intellectuals in their ranks. Whilst some initial success has been gained in becoming more closely integrated with the struggle of the working class and in transforming the class character and composition of the RCLB, it would be most unwise to underestimate the danger of dogmatism and idealism inherent in our current situation. Dogmatism and idealism are particularly dangerous for comrades in leading positions who are frequently not as deeply integrated with the struggle of the working class as are comrades in lower levels or among the rank-and-file.

Many comrades have got quite a lot of book-knowledge and know Marxist theory in the abstract. Without a firm understanding that the only true knowledge is drawn from objective reality and tested in practice, it is relatively easy for these comrades to make errors of dogmatism. Dogmatism treats Marxist theory as lifeless dogma, divorced from the real world and unconnected with practice. It fails to understand that the only correct ideas are those which conform to reality and which can therefore change the world.

It is quite easy for many comrades, particularly those from the intelligentsia, to seize ready-made formulas and quotations from the Marxist classics and wave them around like talismans, neglecting to study them closely and test them in the light of the concrete conditions of the British revolution. To take a concrete example: the RCLB’s correct policy of devoting all resources in mass work to the working class, particularly the industrial working class, is based on the similar line of Lenin in ”The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats”, In applying this line it is necessary to grasp that the concrete conditions of Britain today and of Russia in 1897 are very different. It would be quite possible to interpret this line in a very narrow sense of doing only factory work, forgetting for instance, the very high level of permanent unemployment in Britain today, a factor which did not exist in Russia in 1897. In line with its resources therefore the RCLB does some mass work among the unemployed workers. This is a concrete example of the fact that:

“All correct ideas depend on time, place and conditions; otherwise they would be metaphysical. ” (“Peking Review” 18.11.7)

The line of “integrating theory with practice” is a powerful weapon against dogmatism. As Mao said:

“How can those who have only book-learning be turned into intellectuals in the true sense? The only way is to get them to take part in practical work and become practical workers to get those engaged in theoretical work to study important practical problems!” (“Rectify the Party’s Style of Work”, “Selected Readings”, p 215)

Over a period of time, through engaging in practice in many different spheres of Party-building, intellectual comrades have gradually changed their way of thinking and have grasped more firmly that knowledge derived from books must be studied in the light of concrete reality and verified in practice.

“Idealism is very closely connected with dogmatism and both are forms of subjectivism, but whereas dogmatism is chiefly characterised by aim- less theorising and the reciting of formulations and quotations parrot- fashion, idealism assumes that whatever is in the head is correct and forgets that in general practice is primary. Idealism forgets that correct ideas “come from social practice and from it alone.” (Mao: “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?” “Selected Readings”, p 502).

Some comrades who have a tendency to idealism have a tendency to stick to their subjectively conceived ideas in complete disregard of practice, It is not possible for a line, policy or plan to completely conform to reality. Often our initial plans will have many defects in them- there will be many factors we have neglected take into account or which we could not possibly be aware of. This is why our policies, lines and plans are changed when practice shows either that they were in error or did not take into account some unforeseen factor. It is essential that we are prepared to adjust our ideas when practice shows up imperfections in them. In Mao’s-words:

“... men’s original ideas, theories, plans or programmes are seldom realised without any alteration… ideas, theories, plans or programmes are usually altered partially and sometimes even wholly, because of the discovery of unforeseen circumstances in the course of practice.” (“On Practice”, “Selected Readings”, p 78)

An example of this type of necessary adjustment to policy is the policy on the relationship between propaganda and agitation adopted by the RCLB at its founding Congress. The CFB and the CUA, correctly recognising that propaganda is the decisive thing at the stage of rallying the vanguard, had used to think that propaganda should dominate our publications. Practice, and learning from the experience of other Marxist-Leninist organisations, particularly the CP (M-L) US, showed though that the vanguard can only be rallied in the course of struggle against the monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie. It is therefore essential to unite with the mass of workers in their struggles. To carry out this change of policy it was also necessary to grasp that quantitatively agitation should dominate our publications. As the RCLB Manifesto says “agitational articles…dominate our political paper quantitatively, propaganda articles play the decisive role.” (p 25)

This process of adjustment must go on, otherwise our lines and policies will become increasingly divorce from reality, ad therefore our practice will not meet with success. Some comrades have not deeply grasped this fact and have a tendency to stick to their original plans come hell or high water.

As important as the adjustment of line, policy and plan in line with experience, is conscientiously striving to ensure that in the first place our line, policy and plan corresponds as much as possible to reality. Here investigation, close study and analysis are essential. Lenin said that concrete analysis of concrete conditions is ”the most essential thing, the living soul of Marxism.” Investigation, close study and analysis are essential to the spirit of seeking truth from facts. It is necessary to study a thing, whether it be a factory, a particular struggle, an area of work we are leading or a policy decision, in considerable detail. We must strive for all-roundedness, looking at as many aspects as possible and having a good grasp of the particularity of contradiction. As Lenin said:

“in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and ‘mediations’. We shall never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity.” (Cited in “Quotations from Mao Tsetung”, p 218)

Investigation is an aspect of this style of work that we must grasp more thoroughly. This is important for all comrades those with leadership responsibilities. Without the most thorough possible investigation of actual conditions, it is impossible to lead practical work well. As Mao so clearly put it:

“Everyone engaged in practical work must investigate conditions at the lower levels. Such investigation is especially necessary for those who know theory but do not know the actual conditions, for otherwise they will not be able to link theory with practice.

Although my assertion ‘No investigation, no right to speak’ , has been ridiculed as narrow empiricism, to this day I do not regret having made it; far from regretting it, I still insist, that without investigation there cannot possibly be any right to speak.” (“Quotations”, p 230 and “Selected Works”, Vol.3 p 13).

All comrades in the League with leadership responsibilities must struggle hard to master investigation work and deeply understand that they cannot lead practical work if they rely solely, or even mainly, on what is in their own heads, not troubling themselves to study actual conditions or to learn from others.


Although the League is now putting a lot more emphasis on practice, we must not make the mistake of assuming that the ideas and experience which stem from direct experience are necessarily correct or universally applicable. Empiricism forgets this and mistakes fragmentary experience for universal truth. For comrades from a working class background, who are perhaps not as well acquainted with theoretical texts as comrades from the intelligentsia, and for comrades whose main area of practice is mass work, empiricism is a particular danger.

It is quite incorrect to construct theories, lines, policies and plans simply on the basis of a limited amount of direct experience. Such direct experience must be viewed in the light of Marxist theory. Theory is the concentrated expression of the experience of the working class movement of all countries, taken in its general aspect. Therefore when we look at our particular experience in one factory, in one branch or in one field of work, and compare it to theory, we are, in reality, comparing a strictly limited amount of direct experience to a vastly greater amount of indirect experience. It is essential to grasp that all theory comes from practice and that most of our knowledge comes from indirect experience. Provided that this experience has been summed up correctly, it is an invaluable guide to practice.

We must also grasp the leading role of theory. Practice cannot possibly be successful if it is not consciously led by theory. We will be blind, half-baked revolutionaries, stumbling around in the dark if we neglect theory. Stalin described well how indispensable theory is:

“...theory, and theory alone, can give the movement confidence.. the power of orientation, and an understanding of the inner relation of surrounding events; for it, and it alone, can help practice to realise not only how and in which direction classes are moving at the present time, but also how and in which direction they will move in the near future. None other than Lenin uttered and repeated scores of times the well-known thesis that: ’Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” (“Foundations of Leninism”, Peking ed. P 22 (Emphasis in original)).

In order to be able to seek truth from facts we must have a good grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought as an ideological and theoretical system. Only if we have a good grasp of Marxism can we seek truth from facts, only then can we come to correct conclusions, guided by the general principles of Marxism, from our study of concrete reality, and not unwittingly come to incorrect conclusions guided by bourgeois ideology because our grasp of Marxism is weak.

Marxism consists of three basic elements, philosophy, political economy and scientific socialism; we must study them hard and understand them thoroughly. The study of Marxism takes two different forms. Frequently, we study concrete policies or lines in order to understand them and how to carry them out, or we study some Marxist text in order to elucidate and solve a problem. The other form is when we study basic principles of Marxism in order to deepen our knowledge of Marxism for the purpose of increasing our ability to take part in and lead the class struggle. The amount of practical work we do means that the former type may well quantitatively dominate our work, but in the long term the latter is more important. All comrades must conscientiously strive to set aside some time for private study of the basic Marxist texts in order to increase their ability to integrate the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought with the concrete practice of the British revolution. This is most important for helping us to practice Marxism and to combat and prevent opportunism and revisionism, especially within our own ranks. As Hua Kuo-feng recently said:

“While the study of concrete policies and work directives is naturally very important it cannot be substitute for the study of basic principles. One important reason why some of our comrades committed mistakes of one kind or another and even allowed themselves to be misled is that the basic principles of Marxism had not really taken root in their minds and were blown away by a gust of wind. We must follow Chairman Mao’s consistent teachings, study Marxism painstakingly and cultivate the habit of reading. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought is an extremely rich treasure house of theory, it is an integrated scientific system. In the course of studying, we should strive to grasp all facets of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought in their entirety and not in bits and pieces, grasp them as they are and not as one wants them to be, and grasp them concretely and not abstractly.” (“Peking Review”, 21.10.77, pp 9/10.)

Dogmatism, idealism and empiricism are all forms of subjectivism. In fighting for a fine style of work we are fighting for a style of work which unites theory and practice. In Mao’s words:

“It is necessary to master Marxist theory and apply it, master it for the sole purpose of applying it.”(“Rectify the Party’s Style of Work” ”Selected Readings”, p 213).

A good teacher by negative example of all of these errors is an article in the December 1977 issue of “Class Struggle” entitled “Firemen Determined to Win”. This article ended with a good spirit in saying:

“The firemen are fully prepared for a Long strike. ’It’s going to be a long, hard, bitter struggle’. With their high level of unity, and tremendous morale, with overwhelming public support, and with their determination not to be sold out, they are sure to win.”

But as we know the firemen lost. We cannot expect to be soothsayers, but with a better grasp of the basic Marxist world outlook, we would have anticipated the defeat of the firemen. As it stood we made errors of dogmatism, idealism and empiricism in the article. In the first place the article didn’t grasp that in the present stage, when the unions are led by opportunists, most economic struggles are being lost because of the absence of Marxist-Leninist leadership. It was dogmatist in applying the basic principle of having faith in the masses by assuming that the masses will win all battles. It was idealist in thinking that because the firemen wanted to win, they would win. It was also empiricist in looking only at the relatively good-situation in one city and not relating that to the struggle as a whole.

These errors are not serious in-themselves but they are good examples of the sort of errors we must be conscientious in struggling against in fighting to seek truth from facts.


Closely connected with seeking truth from facts is the question of the mass line. We must all have real conviction that “the masses are the real heroes, whilst we ourselves are often childish and ignorant.”

A correct line or policy is one which both corresponds to the objective needs of the masses and one which also enjoys their support. We must not beat workers over the head with Marxism-Leninism nor must we conjure up lines and policies out of our heads. On the other hand we must not tail behind the spontaneous level of consciousness of the working class.

In all of our practical work we must struggle hard to master the mass line. All comrades should make friends with the workers, solicit opinions and listen carefully to their views. We must listen carefully to what everybody has to say, including non-proletarian elements. We must careful evaluate these views and opinions, study them in the light of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and draw appropriate conclusions. In studying them we must discard the dross and keep the true, to get to the essence of what workers say. One comrade thought that all the workers in her section were very anti-union because they said so. But in reality they were hostile to a very bad steward and supported the union when given good leadership by a new steward. Here we have the problem of the contra diction between the appearance and the essence of a thing. Only by studying the thing closely can we see the essence of a thing beneath its appearance. In order to understand the essence of a thing we must also have the spirit of relying on the masses, and not just on what is in our own heads:

“Objective reality is exceedingly rich in content and very complex; if we want to understand the objective world correctly, we must rely on the wisdom and experience of the masses. The wisdom of an individual is always limited whereas that of the masses is inexhaustible. It is far, far from enough to rely only on the practical experience of a few leaders; not until we have learnt from our subordinates and from the masses, have concentrated their experience and knowledge and, together with them, have repeatedly tested, enriched and revised it in practice, can we do our work well”. (“Peking Review”, 18.11.77. p 7).

Over a period of time if we are conscientious about applying the mass line we will develop correct policies which enjoy the support of the masses correspond to their objective needs, develop their ideological and political consciousness and propel the revolutionary struggle forward. In doing this we must consciously guard against commandism on the one hand and tailism on the other.

A practical policy which runs far ahead of the consciousness of the masses is an incorrect policy. Such policies alienate us from the masses and hand over leadership of the working class to the opportunists, and therefore to the bourgeoisie. We know for instance that in order to build socialism we must seize state power by armed struggle. We do not though issue calls to man the barricades, but put forward policies which correspond to the objective level of development of the class struggle and to the consciousness of the working class. Such a policy is the call to “Turn the unions into fighting class organizations.”

On the other hand a policy which does not take the class struggle forward and develop the consciousness of the masses, or which tails behind the level of consciousness of the backward elements, is also an incorrect policy. Although we do not issue calls to man the barricades WE do do propaganda on the historical inevitability of the demise of capitalism and the rise of socialism. What the masses think is not always correct. In fact under conditions of capitalism, they will be frequently incorrect. Therefore many policies which do correspond to the objective level of development of the class struggle are policies which we must fight for if they are to gain the support of the masses. Take the case of immigration controls. It is vital in the current situation where the bourgeois state is using racism to divide the working class and is strengthening its repressive apparatus, to fight against immigration controls. This is not a demand which will immediately win the support of the mass of workers, yet only this demand can unite the working class and defeat the attempts of the bourgeoisie to split the working class. The demand can only be won by patiently educating the mass of workers, including the racist ones, on its objective necessity.

Similarly, we must not think that we can formulate all, or even most, of our policies on the basis of listening to the opinions and demands of the masses. By themselves the mass of workers will develop only trade union consciousness. Communist consciousness comes from without, from those who are already Communists. The theory that the working class will spontaneously develop Communist consciousness is a theory which denies the leading role of theory and the Party as Stalin clearly pointed out:

“The theory of worshipping spontaneity is decidedly opposed to giving the spontaneous movement a politically conscious, planned character. It is opposed to the Party marching at the head of the working class to the Party raising the level of the masses to the level of political consciousness, to the Party leading the movement; it is in favour of the politically conscious elements not hindering the movement from taking its own course; it is in favour of the Party only heeding the spontaneous movement and dragging at the tail of it. The theory of spontaneity is the theory of belittling the role of the conscious element in the movement, the logical basis of all opportunism.” ((“Foundations of Leninism”, Peking ed., pp 23/24. (emphasis in original)).

The relationship between adopting policies which correspond to the objective needs of the masses and yet which enjoy their support was concisely summed up by Mao:

“We should help the masses to realise that we represent their interests, that our lives are intimately bound up with theirs. We should help them proceed from these things to an understanding of the higher tasks we have put forward, the tasks of the revolutionary war, so that they will support the revolution and spread it throughout the country, respond to our political appeals and fight to the end for victory in the revolution.” (“Quotations”, p 133)


An integral aspect of a fine style of work is a healthy system of democratic-centralism. Unless we have a good system of democratic-centralism which can speedily concentrate correct ideas upwards and channel correct leadership downwards, we cannot seek truth from facts or apply the mass line. In short we cannot have a fine style of work.

Our system of democratic-centralism is in the main working well but it can definitely be improved. Two aspects need particular attention.

The leadership at branch level must be more conscientious about passing up criticism and ideas from the rank-and-file. Through the Branch Committees the Central Committee is in contact with the whole membership. It is essential therefore that Branch Committees listen attentively to the opinions of the rank-and-file. Branch Committees must not only concentrate correct ideas, but pass important criticisms on, even when they think them to be incorrect.

Rank-and-file comrades must be conscientious about applying the mass line in their mass work. Leading committees can set an example in seeking truth from facts and applying the mass line, but what is decisive is the rank-and-file who are actually carrying out the line of the organisation collectively, and who are most in contact with the masses. Through the Branch Committees the Central Committee is in contact with many thousands of workers. The amount of investigation that can be carried out by the Central Committee is strictly limited by objective factors but if the rank-and-file is conscientious about applying the mass line and seeking truth from facts in its mass work, and if the Branch Committees are similarly conscientious with what the rank-and-file has to say, then the Central Committee is able to concentrate the views and experience of these many thousands of workers. Our democratic-centralist system must be like a smooth-running up and down escalator system taking ideas and experience up and leadership down.

We are a young organisation – we have a golden opportunity to build a really strong revolutionary Communist Party with deep roots in the working class. We can only do this if we build a Party that has the same fine style of work as the Communist Party of China – a style of work of seeking truth from facts, and practising the mass line and democratic-centralism. Let’s take that golden opportunity to build a Party that is at one with the working class and the mass of the people and therefore can lead them in revolution.