First Published: Revolutuion No. 3, January 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The article which follows is a criticism of the ’Draft Theses Conclusions and Proposals on the Central Question of Party Building’ of the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), published recently in the pamphlet ’Its Up To Us’. As a result of further principled struggle with other Marxist-Leninist organisations after sending this criticism to the CWLB(ML), the CFB(ML) has deepened its understanding of the tasks of building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class.
Uniting the fragmented British Marxist-Leninist Movement through active ideological struggle is a task of great importance in Party building. However it is wrong to imply that this is the only major task of party building. There are other indispensible tasks of great importance, such as grasping, the imperialist nature of British society. Thorough investigation work is also essential in order correctly to integrate the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the British revolution. Therefore it is more correct to say that “Active ideological struggle is the key Link in uniting the British Marxist-Leninist movement for Party Building”.
However the argument in the letter of criticism to the CWLB(ML) is overwhelmingly correct. Uniting the Marxist-Leninist movement in a single democratic centralist organisation is essential for bringing all positive factors into play. From this point of view, in Britain today, active ideological struggle is without doubt, in Lenin’s words “the Link that is Least likely to be torn out of our hands, the one that is most important” at this given moment, and “the one that guarantees the possessor of a link the possession of the whole chain”.
The criticism was sent to the CWLB(ML) with the aim of struggling for unity in the Marxist-Leninist movement. It was sent with the following covering note:
* * *
To the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
I enclose the carefully-considered reply of the Executive Committee of the CFB(ML) to your statement on Party Building, ’It’s Up To Us! ! It tries to assess correctly the positive and negative aspects of your statement and where necessary it makes bold and comradely criticisms. You will see in many places where we make criticisms we are urging you to take warning from the sharp lessons we have learned from our own errors.
The reply attempts to draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. This is precisely, as Lenin says, “in order that we may unite”.
We urge you to consider the criticism carefully and in the spirit of “correct mistakes if you have made them, guard against them if you have not”. We are not yet sure whether you understand this principle fully. We did not think it was correct for ’Voice of the People’ to describe the Communist Unity Association’s reply to your statement as an attack. In our view it was a bold comradely criticism and part of the struggle to build unity in the Marxist-Leninist movement.
’It’s Up To Us!’ is a public statement to be made public and it is necessary for our reply to be made public too. Although we very much desire unity with the CWLB (ML) and firmly believe this would be in the interests of the working class, the matter is not merely a private one between us but concerns the whole British Marxist-Leninist movement. We believe you have made some errors and it is therefore our duty to point them out not only to you but to all other comrades who may have read your public statement.
Because our reply will be published it is expressed mainly in the third person and is not expressed mainly in the form of a personal letter from ’us’ to ’you’.
You wrote earlier proposing a meeting between your comrade and ours before we took a final decision on the Party Building commission. No decision is ever final because as Marxist-Leninist we will gladly make a self-criticism and correct a mistake if we are shown to be wrong. We would be very willing for our representatives to meet yours within the next 2 or 3 weeks to struggle with us on points in our reply. If you convince us that there are errors we will correct our statement before it is published in our theoretical journal.
We are not in favour of large numbers of comrades being present at such a meeting because this makes errors of ultra-democracy. At such a meeting the organisations should have their lines presented by a leading spokesmen. We propose at the forthcoming meeting there should be two comrades from either side.
The main business of this meeting therefore will be for you to make criticisms of our reply. If you agree could you please let us have as soon as possible a choice of several dates within the next two or three weeks?
This is our immediate proposal. Please also consider very seriously our long term proposal in reply to the idea of a Party Building Commission in the last paragraph but one of our reply: we must resolve to unite for the sake of the working class. We will unite by first winning ideological unity through active ideological struggle, criticism and self-criticism. A first step towards this is to draw ’firm and definite lines of demarcation’. We must wage this struggle with the firm resolve to press on after winning ideological unity to consolidate it into organisational unity with the weapon of democratic-centralism. This is the way to serve the interests of the working class.
With revolutionary greetings,
The Executive Committee of the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
* * *
The central task in Britain today is to rebuild revolutionary Communist Party of the working class. Without this Party, all the spontaneous struggles of the working class in this country against the British imperialist ruling class cannot result in the overthrow of the ruling class and the establishment of a socialist state under a dictatorship of the proletariat. But the Communist Party of Great Britain has been taken over by a clique of opportunists who have turned it into a revisionist party which is socialist in words but in fact serves the interests of the bourgeoisie. This is why rebuilding the revolutionary Communist Party is the central task in Britain today.
The task is a big one which we cannot achieve overnight merely by announcing the formation of a new Party. We have to learn once again how to do the work of successfully leading the working class in making revolution. The process of Party building will be one of prolonged struggle.
It will be a complex task involving many subordinate tasks. In order to guide this work correctly and in order to avoid wandering off the correct revolutionary path it is essential to grasp the key link in Party building.
What is the key link in rebuilding the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class in Britain today? The CFB(ML)says the key link is active ideological struggle. You in the CWLB(ML) see the key link as investigation. This is the principal line of demarcation between the two organisations.
The CFB(ML) wishes to state its high respect for the comrades of the CWLB(ML). The CWLB(ML) has persevered now for several years in modestly and conscientiously serving the cause of the working class. They endeavour to take a bold working class stand. They have published an important document which emphasizes the need to build Communist bases in the industrial working class; and within the last two years they have made real progress, despite their limited resources, in implementing this policy.
The CWLB(ML)’s recent Pamphlet, ’It’s Up To Us!’, clearly states that the question of Party building is the central question in Britain today. This is an important advance. It answers some doubts raised by their pamphlet on building base in the industrial working class which did not state so clearly that party building is the central task. Nevertheless the CFB(ML) still has doubts about whether the CWLB(ML)is grasping the central task of building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class really firmly.
The pamphlet, ’It’s Up To Us!’, emphasizes five important aspects of Party building and contains valuable quotations from the great Marxist-Leninist leaders and Parties on these five questions. They are:
1. The need for a class analysis based on a concrete understanding of concrete conditions within Britain.
2. The need for a scientific analysis of friends and foes internationally.
3. The need for a scientific understanding of the national question in the British Isles.
4. The need for a firm grasp of the leading role of the working class in the forthcoming British revolution.
5. The need for a firm grasp of strategy and tactics necessary for this proletarian revolution.
On all these five questions the CWLB(ML)’s pamphlet gives valuable educational material.
The pamphlet makes a sincere and systematic attempt to propose a solution to the present fragmentation of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain into many different groups. For its part the CWLB(ML) has taken an important step in combating tendencies towards small group mentality in its own ranks. It is proposing to surrender a significant amount of its own independence of action and hopes to merge with other serious Marxist-Leninist organizations in order to do a better job of building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class.
All these are strong positive features which must be welcomed. In this reply to the CWLB(ML)we must concentrate on-drawing lines of demarcation and struggling against certain errors which exist in the pamphlet. We do this so that over a period of time we can win principled unity with the CWLB(ML) on the basis of what is in the interests of the working class. In this way we will build a unity that will live. However at the same time as criticising the weaknesses and errors we should not lose sight of the positive aspects of their Party-building pamphlet.
At present in Britain the Marxist-Leninist movement is deeply divided into a dozen different circles, organizations and self-declared Parties, all infected with small group mentality and liberalism. An essential part of the central task of building the genuine revolutionary Communist Party is to unite all those who can be united. The final ringing call of the Communist Manifesto, “Working Men of all Countries, Unite!”, deeply applies to us too.
But how can we bring about a unity on the basis of principle and which will live, not a unity on the basis of opportunism-which will perish? Mao Tsetung gives the answer in the first sentence of ’Combat Liberalism’ – active ideological struggle.
We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interests of our fight.
Active ideological struggle is not just a powerful weapon for ensuring unity: it is the weapon. It is not just the weapon which will help bring about unity: it is the weapon for ensuring unity.
Experience of prolonged ideological struggle, in the CFB(ML) clearly demonstrated to us the truth of this statement. All comrades except those who refused to struggle were united in a militant unity around correct lines and policies. This ideological unity is now being consolidated in a militant organizational unity on firm democratic centralist principles. The groups have become transformed into branches. The “Federation” is already almost dead. We will proudly announce the burial service when preparations are fully complete, and we will invite all other comrades to join with us in the celebrations! This change came about because active ideological struggle ensures unity.
Comrades! Active ideological struggle will ensure the unity of all honest comrades in the British Marxist-Leninist movement. Active ideological struggle ensures that we will sweep aside the dozen small groups that at present fragment the ranks of revolutionary Communists at present.
There is a second reason why active ideological struggle is the key link to be grasped in building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class. Ideological struggle is not-a passive process; it is an active process. It is a battle of between correct ideas and incorrect ideas, between proletarian ideas on the one hand, and bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas on the other. It is a battle which ensures that correct proletarian ideas win out in the end and are grasped not only by those, who first put them forward but by all the comrades sincerely taking part in the..struggle. But even more than that, the correct proletarian ideas do not just win out, they are developed and strengthen in the course of the struggle with the incorrect bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas. Mao Tsetung puts this very clearly:
What is correct invariably develops in the course of struggle with what is wrong. (’On Correct Handing of Contradictions Among the People’ Section VIII, Mao – Selected Readings, p464)
We must deeply grasp this truth and understand its great significance for Party building in Britain.
If we look at the British Marxist-Leninist movement, seeing only the surface appearance, it is a miserable picture of a dozen small groups, none very large, and riddled with liberalism and small group mentality.
But within them there is a great reserve, of energy which can be unlocked with the key of active ideological struggle. The struggle to unite these small groups will involve deep and protracted battles on almost all the major aspects of Party building. The struggles will “ensure” not just the unity of the small groups but that our grasp of correct ideas will be immeasurably strengthened in the course of the ideological struggles.
At present the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain looks a miserable sight on the surface, but if we look beneath the surface we will understand that active ideological struggle, can produce a great qualitative change, can build a strong, new, revolutionary Communist Party of the working class within a few years that active ideological struggle is the key link to be grasped in Party building.
Lenin described the idea of the key link in ’What Is To Be Done?’:
The whole of political life is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and gripping as strong as we can the link that is least likely to be torn out of our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that guarantees the possession of the whole chain. (Peking Edition, p201)
In the British Marxist-Leninist movement today, active ideological struggle is precisely that key link which is least likely to be torn out of our hands. It is precisely the one that is most important at this given moment. It is precisely the one which, despite all our present weaknesses, we can grab hold of, and the possession of which will guarantee us the “possession of the whole chain”. It will guarantee that with perseverance, we will without doubt build a strong new revolutionary Communist Party.
As the comrades in the CWLB(ML) point out, it is up to us. There are no geniuses in the British Marxist-Leninist movement, no Lenins or Mao Tsetungs. All the groups are onesided in one way or another. But even starting with this poor material we will undoubtedly bring about a qualitative change if we persevere in grasping the key link of active ideological struggle.
The comrades in the CWLB(ML) do not yet grasp the significance of active ideological struggle and do not grasp it as the key link in Party building. Instead they fall into the error of liberalism which as Mao Tsetung says, “rejects ideological struggle”.
The CWLB(ML) have never made a systematic public criticism of the line of another Marxist-Leninist organization. This is not merely accidental; it is a manifestation of the error of liberalism, which the CFB(ML) has also suffered from severely.
In the CWLB(ML)’s pamphlet, ’Hey! It’s Up To Us’, they print “along list of the essential characteristics of a genuine revolutionary, Communist Party, but nowhere in this list does it say that the Party must wage active ideological struggle for proletarian ideology against all anti-working class ideology. The longest entry on ideological struggle in the pamphlet is only seven sentences on page 56 in connection with a proposed Commission on Party building. It is liberally and vaguely worded:
We also wish to stress that if in its work the Commission is to successfully fight against right and left opportunism, there must be initiated an honest struggle against erroneous ideas which permeate the thinking of some organizations. The CWLB(ML) will make no further comment on this issue now”.
Certain subordinate points are then referred to briefly. This is a liberal way of writing about the key link of ideological struggle.
There are many deep differences between Marxist-Leninist organizations in Britain which cannot be resolved merely by honest and conscientious investigation work, co-ordinated by a Commission, as the CWLB(ML) imply they can. These differences represent contradictions between correct and incorrect ideas, principled and opportunist ideas, proletarian and bourgeois or petty bourgeois ideas. They can only be resolved by grasping the principal weapon for ensuring unity within the ranks of revolutionary Communists – active ideological struggle.
The CWLB(ML) makes a serious error of liberalism in not grasping the importance of active ideological struggle.
It also makes a serious idealist error by not grasping the class nature of the struggle between different ideologies. Ideological struggle is class struggle. It is the battle between the ideas which serve the proletariat and the ideas which serve the bourgeoisie or the intermediate strata. This battle goes on everyday of our lives in class society. Instead the CWLB(ML) sees only the battle between correct or incorrect ideas, which it calls the battle between scientific and unscientific ideas. It is true these battles occur, but it is wrong to see the ideological struggle mainly in these terms instead of in class terms, and it is quite wrong to see the ideological struggle only in these terms. The ideological struggle that must go on within a revolutionary Communist Party to arm it to lead the fight of the working class to overthrow the bourgeoisie is a class fight for proletarian ideas against bourgeois or petty-bourgeois ideas. Only if the Party of the working class is armed with the proletarian ideas of Marxism-Leninism can it help the working class to organize and overthrow capitalism.
It is true that differences of opinion can start as a result of accidental mistakes and one sidedness. But if comrades persist in a line for any length of time it almost certainly represents the stand of one class or another. In any major two line struggle there is always one line that in essence most correctly represents the stand and interests of the working class and another line which represents the stand or interests of the bourgeoisie or sections of the middle strata, such as the intelligentsia.
As Mao Tsetung says:
In class society...every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class. (Quotations, p8)
The CWLB(ML) list many characteristics of a revolutionary Communist Party but do not name the most fundamental characteristic – that the Party must persistently and uncompromisingly take the stand of the working-class. This is a class question.
Instead the CWLB (ML), elevate to first place the methods of work and techniques of investigation of a Communist Party. The CWLB(ML) say these must be “scientific”, but do not sharply distinguish between proletarian science and bourgeois science and do not say which they mean. This too is an idealist error. For them a, genuine revolutionary Party is in essence a party that has mastered a number of skills, not a party that in essence merely aids the historical struggle of the working class. In the final analysis the CWLB(ML) is falling into idealism and forgetting that it is class struggle that carries forward social history, not clever ideas or skills in themselves.
The words of the ’Communist Manifesto’ are very important in guarding against idealism:
The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented or discovered by this or that universal reformer – they merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. (Peking Edition, p48)
The CWLB(ML) quote this passage but do not fully grasp it. The point is made again by Mao Tsetung on page 8 of the Quotations:
Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history, such is the history of civilisation for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism.
The single most important thing about a revolutionary Communist Party is that it must take the stand of the working class and aid the working class in its already existing class struggles. The single most important thing about a revolutionary Communist Party is not what the CWLB(ML) imply, that it possesses a number of skilful-scientific techniques for doing political work better. To say this is idealist. It is in the final analysis a way of saying that history is made by parties of individuals who have mastered certain political skills. Instead we must say that history is made by the class struggle of the masses. This is the historical materialist standpoint.
Investigation work is a very important subordinate task of Party building. The CFB(ML) must state boldly that it has relatively ignored the importance of investigation in the last year or two and has fallen into one-sidedness on this question. Investigation is essential so that we can successfully integrate the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of the class struggle in Britain. The CWLB(ML) makes many valuable points on this question.
However the CWLB (ML) is wrong to make out that investigation is the key link in Party building. By over-emphasising its importance they fall into idealism in forgetting the fundamental importance of the working class stand of a revolutionary Communist party. Also they try to draw a distinction between ’the camp of science and the camp of anti-science’, talking about science as if it did not have a class content. But in fact there is proletarian science and bourgeois science and the distinction must on no account be forgotten.
The CWLB(ML) do not make sufficiently clear that when Marxist-Leninists carry out an investigation we do not do so in a ’neutral’ way but definitely from the stand of the working class. We must not assess all the facts we gather in a random way but by subjecting them to class analysis – by analysing the class content and the class meaning of each different fact; when we piece together ideas gathered from these facts we must not do this in an aimless way but firmly guided by the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism. All these qualifications are essential to make when talking about investigation work in order to guard against the danger of falling into bourgeois empiricism – the error of mistaking fragmentary experience for universal truth. But in the way the CWLB(ML) talks about investigation it does not draw this firm line of demarcation with bourgeois empiricism.
It is also necessary to guard against empiricism in another way. At this time of theoretical chaos in the British Marxist-Leninist movement, it is the duty of all revolutionary Communists to uphold, defend and propagate the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism. The slogan “No investigation, no right to speak” should not be used in a way that would prevent comrades propagating the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism. To do this would be to fall into empiricism. Certainly we need investigation in order to understand how correctly to integrate these universal truths with concrete practice, but that is a different point. At times (for example page three of the Introduction to the pamphlet) the CWLB(ML) do not stress sufficiently the importance of upholding the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism but appear rather to make this dependent on already having carried out a concrete investigation, ourselves.
In their pamphlet the CWLB(ML) make a proposal for a “Marxist-Leninist Working Commission on Party Building Preparatory Work”, composed of delegates from different-Marxist-Leninist organizations, with each organization having one vote. The task of the Commission would be to produce draft statements based on investigation on five major fields of policy for the future revolutionary Communist Party.
This proposal is a sincere attempt to carry forward the central task of Party building, but it makes certain serious opportunist errors. The Commission violates democratic centralism and compromises with small group mentality. It hopes to overcome small group mentality step by step without waging an openly-declared ideological war against the small group mentality that is rampant in the British Marxist-Leninist movement. The CWLB (ML) calls this Commission an “organization of a new type”, but in fact it is an organization of an old type. Although the CWLB(ML) deny it is federal in nature that is precisely what it is. It is an opportunist compromise with small group mentality which violates democratic-centralism.
The CFB(ML) has just spent the last two years fighting this federalist compromise type of solution to Party building and it is deeply convinced that the federal road is an opportunist road. It must firmly criticize any proposal that would – however unintentionally – lead the working class down this road again.
If there are no major differences between particular Marxist-Leninist organizations, let them unite in a single democratic centralist organisation and plan the distribution of their cadre resources to do necessary investigation work under democratic centralist discipline. If there are no major differences of principle what possible justification is there for perpetuating their existence as small groups and for embarking on a long process of investigation work organized in a federal way, which fosters small group mentality and individualism? Comrade! We speak with the experience of wandering in the marsh of federalism for six years. Be warned by our negative experience!
If on the other hand, there are major differences of principle between organisations, they cannot be resolved by investigation work and ’calm’ discussions (pamphlet, p.50). On the contrary the organizations must follow Leninist principle:
Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation”. (’What Is To Be Done?’ Peking edition, p26)
Starting from the desire for unity, they must engage in active ideological struggle to reach principled ideological unity. They must then consolidate this unity by organizational unity in a single democratic centralist organization. This is the only correct way to serve the interests of the working class in such a situation.
The CWLB(ML) have made a number of opportunist errors in their pamphlet “It’s Up To Us!” – principally of liberalism, of idealism, and of compromising with small group mentality. The CFB(ML) has made serious errors of this nature too.
Because the CWLB (ML) has made some opportunist errors does not mean that they are opportunists. At the same time as criticizing the shortcomings of the CWLB(ML), we must also recognize their achievements. Their pamphlet firmly states that the central question in Britain today is that of Party building and it sincerely attempts to put forward a solution to the fragmentation of the Marxist-Leninist movement into small groups.
The CFB(ML) regards the members of the CWLB(ML) as comrades and believes that with perseverance, and by using the Marxist-Leninist weapon of self-criticism to get rid of the bad while retaining the good, they will undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class. We firmly believe that it is in the interests of the working class that the comrades from our two organizations should be fighting side by side in a single democratic-centralist organization.
The CFB(ML) calls on the CWLB(ML) to set aside their incorrect proposal for a Commission on Party building, to struggle for early unity with the CFB(ML) and other serious Marxist-Leninist groups in a single democratic centralist organization, and immediately to start work on this by drawing lines of demarcation and by using active ideological struggle.
If we firmly grasp active ideological struggle as the key link in Party building the task will be accomplished in a relatively short space of time. Another shovelful of earth will have been shifted. The genuine revolutionary Communist Party of the working class, and the proletarian revolution, will be that bit nearer!
Active Ideological Struggle, Not Investigation, Is The Key Link In Party Building!
Executive Committee of the CFB(ML)