First Published: Revolution No. 5, May 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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British monopoly capitalism has severely cut the standard of living of the British working class in the last two and a half years. Yet until recently toe working class have hardly fought back. Why? Because the economic organizations of the working class, the trade unions, are in the grip of the revisionists, social democrats and trotskyists. These opportunists are the principal political prop of the bourgeoisie. Without the opportunists British imperialism would not last six months.
Why has all the economic militancy of the British working class in the early 70’s collapsed? Mao Tsetung pointed out:
If the workers alone are without a strong leading group to organise their activity properly, such activity cannot be sustained for long, or carried forward in the right direction or raised to a high level. (’Quotations’ p132)
The need for a genuine revolutionary Communist Party is now clearer than ever. Building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class is the central task in Britain today around which all other tasks must be unfolded.
Yet the record of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain is bad. Fourteen years after the great split in the international Communist movement and the denunciation of modern revisionism by the Chinese and Albanian Parties there are still only a few hundred Marxist-Leninists in Britain, a country of over 50 million people. And these few hundred are divided among a dozen different parties, organisations, groups and circles.
The picture looks bad. But it is far from hopeless. On the contrary there is much that we can do.
What are the factors in our favour? Firstly, we have Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought as the theoretical basis guiding our thinking. So long as we increasingly integrate it with the concrete practice of the class struggle in Britain we can be certain of ultimate success.
Secondly, we have the rising class struggle in Britain. Although the opportunists have temporarily paralysed the organisations of the working class, the smouldering resentment and anger of the class is becoming ever more threatening to the imperialist bourgeoisie. The British Marxist-Leninist movement must go deep among the working class, learn from them and fan the glowing sparks of discontent into the angry flames of a powerful counter-attack by the working class.
Thirdly, the British Marxist-Leninist movement now has 14 years experience. Most of that experience is negative; but one of the strengths of Marxism-Leninism is that it enables us to learn from negative experience; from our mistakes, as well as from our successes, Those comrades who have stayed in the Marxist-Leninist movement over the years have become more tempered, are less subjectivist – less likely to believe “it must be so because it seems so to me”, They are less ready lightly to denounce a comrade as opportunist and then ignore him, instead of struggling with him in a militant and scientific way for a correct line.
The situation is serious in Party building but far from hopeless. The prospects are bright and the need is urgent. We must set about our tasks energetically.
On 26th December last year, to mark the 83rd anniversary of the birthday of Chairman Mao Tsetung, the great teacher of the international working class, the Communist Party of China for the first time published an extremely 3 important article by ’Mao Tsetung, “On the Ten Major Relationships”. The entire Chinese people are studying this article, which is a masterpiece in showing how Marxism-Leninism should be applied to solve the problems of the working class.
We too should study this article because it has rich lessons for us in Party building, the central task for us today. The article starts off by saying that its purpose is to focus on one basic policy:
The basic policy of mobilising all positive factors.
Here immediately is a question for us. Shall we too follow the basic policy of mobilizing all positive factors for Party building or shall we leave positive factors lying idle? We have a choice.
Comrades, let us determine to mobilize all positive factors for party building.
At present the few hundred Marxist-Leninists in Britain are divided into a dozen different organizations. This is an impossible position that prevents us mobilizing all positive factors. Each group is severely limited by shortage of cadres and can do only a fraction of the tasks that we must master in building the Party. The work is rushed and one-sided. Often work in one group duplicates the work in another quite needlessly. At other times one group manages to grasp one aspect of a problem, for example the problem of industrial work, but not another essential aspect. Meanwhile another group grasps the second aspect of the same problem but not the first. But because there is no democratic centralist method of concentrating correct ideas in a single correct policy, the work of cadres in both groups remains inadequate, one-sided and misleading. Like frogs at the bottom of a well they look up and see only a small part of the sky and think it is the whole sky! what a waste of resources! what criminal neglect of the urgent needs of the working class for its own revolutionary Communist Party!
How can such a situation happen? In part it is a problem of history. The different groups and circles have developed separately and they have little or no communication between them. They lack a common language. This will take time and perseverance to overcome. Therefore it is important for the different organizations to increase communication among themselves. An essential first step is to ensure they regularly exchange their publications.
But also the fact is that at present many of the frogs actually prefer to remain at the bottom of their own well. They actually prefer to remain in small isolated groups rather than work energetically in a democratic centralist structure. They would rather preserve their “independence” in small isolated groups than to mobilize all positive factors to build the Party of the working class.
The reason is small group mentality. Chairman Mao hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
Some people...act as though the fewer the people, the smaller the circle the better. Those who have this ’small circle mentality resist the idea of bringing all positive factors into play, of uniting with everyone that can be united with., and of doing everything possible to turn negative factors into positive ones... . (’On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’. Selected Readings. page 461).
It will be impossible to mobilize all positive factors for Party building in Britain without a complete victory over small group mentality.
The thorough defeat and rooting out of small group mentality is our first and most immediate task in Party building. We need to stimulate a widespread movement of criticism and self-criticism to hound out every manifestation of small group mentality, both open and hidden.
In order to win complete victory in our battle it is necessary to understand small group mentality well. Chairman Mao describes it in ’On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party’:
Small group mentality. Some comrades consider only the interests of their own small group and ignore the general interests. Although on the surface this does not seem to be the pursuit of personal interests, in reality it exemplifies the narrowest individualism and has a strong corrosive and centrifugal effect. (Selected Works, Vol. 1,. p 112).
It is a particular manifestation of individualism. This is seen most sharply in the attitudes of the leading comrades in the different small groups. Often it is their individualism, their reluctance to accept the collective discipline of a larger democratic centralist organisation that is they reason for the small group mentality of the group. The leadership produces all sorts of reasons why it is impossible to unite with genuine Marxist-Leninists in another organisation. The real problem is that in their heart they lack any real desire to accept collective discipline themselves. In these cases small group mentality is a manifestation of the individualism of the leading comrades.
In the fight to mobilize all positive factors for Party building and to defeat small group mentality rank and file comrades must exercise comradely supervision over their leading comrades and ensure these leading comrades overcome their individualism.
The social roots of individualism lie in what Chairman Mao called “the petty bourgeoisie’s individualistic aversion to discipline”. At present a significant proportion of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain come from the petty bourgeoisie or from the middle strata. In order to win wholehearted acceptance of the proletarian principle of democratic centralism we must be ready to wage a firm and protracted ideological struggle against individualism, and against its most serious immediate expression, small group mentality.
By a resolute campaign against small group mentality we will succeed in mobilizing all positive factors for Party building!
The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is the largest of the Marxist-Leninist organizations in Britain and has been widely regarded as the leading one of them. On that basis it has attracted many honest workers and intellectuals to its ranks who earnestly desire revolution.
But recently its leadership has become more entrenched in a number of serious opportunist errors. The leadership has arrogantly suppressed and rejected criticism both within the Party and from fraternal Parties and organisations in the international Communist movement.
The leadership of the CPBML grossly glosses over the threat from Soviet social imperialism. They completely surrender their responsibility to act as a vanguard and educate their comrades and the British working class to understand that the Soviet Union is demanding a redivision of the world, is the more dangerous of the two superpowers and the most dangerous source of the next world war.
The leadership of the CPBML falls into social chauvinism by completely ignoring the question of British imperialism and its oppression and exploitation of the oppressed peoples and nations. In the statement of their Fourth Congress there is not one reference to British imperialism! They deny Chairman Mao’s great strategic thesis that the world is divided into the first, the second and the third world. They deny that the struggles of the third world are great anti-imperialist struggles and are the main force in the broadest possible international united front against imperialism, especially the hegemonism of the’ superpowers. What is this but a denial of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, a denial of the fact that the world is largely divided up between a handful of oppressor countries and a great majority of oppressed countries? This opportunist line of the leadership of the CPBML totally fails to teach the British working class that the road to socialist revolution in Britain lies in the revolutionary alliance between the British working class and the oppressed peoples of the world.
The metaphysical ’two class line’ of the leadership of the CPBML denies the existence of a large middle stratum in imperialist Britain. It denies the importance of the middle stratum being led by the working class and it opens the Party of the proletariat to being swamped by the errors of comrades coming from the middle stratum. This opportunist class analysis surrenders the leadership of the revolution to the middle strata.
These points were made in a militant and comradely letter delivered by hand by the CPBML to the CPBML in November 1976, and later published in ’Revolution’ no. 3. The leadership of the CPBML did not reply.
A leading member of the CPBML has been reported as saying that they have a policy of never replying to correspondence from other Marxist-Leninist organizations in Britain. There is no record of them ever having done this.
Such refusal to struggle for unity behind a correct line is a severe manifestation of small group mentality which must be sharply criticised. Through this opportunism the CPBML shares a large measure of the responsibility for the continued fragmentation of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain into a number of small groups.
In the last few months certain other opportunist errors of the leadership of the CPBML have become more glaring.
The most serious is their hostility towards the present leadership of the Communist Party of China. Up to March 1977 not one word of congratulation have they expressed for the great victory over the bunch at intriguers, revisionists with a ’left face’, subjectivists and idealists, – the gang of four! The CPBML holds weekly public meetings in London. In the issue of their paper on January 10th they announced a new list of titles for these meetings lasting for the next three months. Not one of these meetings was on China, even though in the case of two weeks no meeting was planned!
The exposure and criticism of the Gang of Four as enemies of the working class by the Chinese Party and people under the leadership of the Central Committee of the CPC has been thorough, careful and penetrating in all three main aspects of the work of Communists; ideological, political and organisational. How long must it take before the leadership of the CPBML decide that the present leaders of the CPC are worthy successors to Mao Tsetung and Chou En-lai and before they give a clear cut lead to their own comrades and to the British working class on this extremely important question?
In the last six months too, a number of comrades who used to be in the CPBML and who have formed the “Communist Workers Movement”, have vividly drawn attention to the serious errors of inner Party life of the CPBML, errors of bureaucratic centralism and of liberalism.
These are some of the most serious opportunist errors of the present leadership of the CPBML.
These opportunist errors will not go away of their own accord! Unless they are corrected, the CPBML will continue to mislead genuine Marxist-Leninists down the wrong path of Party building. We have a clear choice before us, we can be liberal, remain silent, and play safe; or we can wage a bold, militant and scientific campaign against these errors in the interests of winning unity of all genuine Marxist-Leninists behind the correct line for Party building.
In order to build the genuine Party of the working class it is important now to take up the task of criticising the ’errors of the CPBML. It must be a widespread campaign in which all genuine Marxist-Leninist organizations contribute. Each major opportunist error must be thoroughly examined, and boldly, clearly and penetratingly exposed.
The manner in which we carry forward this campaign is very important. It must be in the spirit of “curing the sickness to save the patient”. The criticisms must be stern but they must also be militant and scientific. We must not give way and simply lash out in an attempt to “finish them off with a single blow”.
It is important to direct the target against the errors of the CPBML and not against the CPBML as such. We must unite with and help educate the great majority of comrades of the CPBML and help them to fight more clearly and firmly for the correct way forward. In this way we ensure that whatever the leadership of the CPBML do there is the least possible harm done to Party building. Either the rank and file will wage a protracted struggle and successfully overthrow the incorrect line within the CPBML; or, if the leadership entrenches itself further in their errors, the rank and file will leave in large numbers and the CPBML will be reduced to an opportunist rump.
At this stage it is important to narrow the target to the opportunist errors of the leadership of the CPBML. Until the struggle has developed much further we must not conclude that the present leading comrades have become out and out opportunists, rather than comrades who have made serious opportunist errors. Our policy must be to call on them to make a bold self-criticism. If their self-criticism is sincere and deep they will learn some important lessons and will be able to make a better contribution to Party building. Only if they dig in their heels, refuse to make a self-criticism and persist in leading the working class down the wrong path will they objectively have become enemies of the working class, out and out opportunists.
By following a militant and scientific policy of “curing the sickness to save the patient” we increase to the maximum the possibilities of uniting all who can be united on the right way forward in building the Party of the working class.
There are many opportunities to unfold this campaign against the errors of the CPBML. Each issue of “The Worker” contains one or two articles which can provide the basis for an important and educational exposure of the errors. Different organisations must take up their responsibility to unfold this work as part of a collective campaign to expose the errors of the CPBML in a bold, careful and penetrating way.
A campaign to criticize the errors of the CPBML is far more important than just a question of overcoming these errors in themselves. As Chairman Mao said:
What is correct invariably develops in the course of struggle with what is wrong. (’On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’. Selected Readings p464).
In the course of struggle against the errors of the CPBML we will grasp much more firmly the correct way forward in Party building and in speeding the socialist revolution. The Marxist-Leninist movement cannot be united without making substantial progress on ideological and political lines. A protracted and united campaign against the errors of the CPBML gives us the opportunity to make great advances in ideological and political line. It will have a powerful effect in speeding up the movement towards a single united democratic centralist Party building organisation.
An attempt at present to found the new revolutionary Communist Party would be premature. No Party programme exists and there is no single leading centre.
In the middle term our aim must be to weld together a single democratic centralist organisation of all genuine Marxist-Leninists. An organisation which will not itself be the Party but which can use democratic centralism to mobilize all the positive factors available for Party building. It will use democratic centralism to concentrate correct ideas speedily and to ensure unity of action in testing and strengthening those ideas in practice. In the middle term then, we need a single Party building democratic centralist organization.
But what do we do in the short term? It is here that federalism, an opportunist short-term organisational solution to the urgent need for the proletarian Party, creeps in.
Small group mentality can manifest itself in a deceptive form which is especially dangerous at this stage of Party building in Britain -federalism. The Marxist-Leninist movement must be particularly vigilant against the danger of federalism. Why is this?
In the British Marxist-Leninist movement today there is a rising desire for unity. This is excellent. It must be strengthened. But many comrades at present have only a hazy idea of how to put this desire for unity into practice. They make proposals to set up a co-ordinating committee between different groups. Then step by step further proposals spontaneously come forward to strengthen this or that co-ordinating committee in a piecemeal fashion. A federation spontaneously comes into existence.
It is then that the trouble starts! All these individual steps on the surface look like attempts at moving towards Party building and greater centralism. But after a certain point no real further movement towards democratic centralist unity by the groups involved takes place. They remain suspended in the structure of a federation like fruit suspended in fruit jelly.
What then has gone wrong? The federal road is an opportunist road. In the organizational field of Party building, federalism does not lay clearly and openly on the agenda the question of democratic centralism. Federalism compromises with small group mentality. It fails to take an openly-declared, clear-cut stand against small group mentality.
Instead federalism tries to get round small group mentality, hoping that the tide of forward movement will automatically carry the groups towards democratic centralism, if no one puts the matter too bluntly! But small group mentality, and the individualism of which it is an expression, will still remain deeply rooted in the thinking of comrades until these errors are boldly challenged and rooted out.
Until small group mentality is openly challenged and overcome the different small groups will resist any real step which makes them subordinate to a single higher level central committee, according to the correct democratic centralist principle that the lower level must be subordinate to the higher level. On every issue a hundred problems will crop up which the small groups will say must be sorted out first before they can implement a certain national decision. But the real problem is that they lack any desire to implement national decisions in a united democratic centralist way.
Those who have fallen into small group mentality may make a great show of supporting unity at the federal level; they may make a great show of declaring the crying need for the Party. But will they make a single move to implement the proletarian principle of democratic centralism as an organizational step towards Party building? No! Not a single move. Not until their own small group mentality has really been overcome.
Precisely because it looks such an obvious and attractive step-by-step solution to Party building, the federal road is a great danger at the present stage in Britain.
Acquiring a common language among different Marxist-Leninist organisations by the exchange of publications and by meetings is useful in providing a basis from which we can hammer out unity on major ideological and political principles. However, through lack of vigilance against small group mentality and federalism, some comrades are trying to transform a system of contacts between Marxist-Leninist organizations, which can be useful, into a federalist system, which is harmful. The opportunist path is paved with good intentions.
For example, where appropriate, it is useful to try to co-ordinate practical activity between different organisations. But if this is organized by a federalist committee in which the different groups have not agreed to abide by the democratic centralist principle that the minority is subordinate to the majority, then such attempt’s at common activity soon turn sour. One group does not want to take part in one project and so drops out. Another group does not want to take part in another project arid refuses to do so. No real basis has been won for their unity, and so it perishes. We end up no nearer a disciplined proletarian Party but have been led once again up the federalist blind alley.
Another form in which lack of vigilance can lead the subjective desire for unity up the federalist blind alley is when comrades produce long lists of problems to be studied before democratic centralist unity can be achieved. They propose that a federalist committee should immerse itself in studying them. But study of these problems under conditions of federalism has to be done without any centralized guidance and without any democratic-centralist structure for concentrating the correct ideas that come forward in the course of study. Meanwhile lists so long would take several years study to complete. Such a proposal therefore objectively holds up democratic-centralist unity for several years.
Another type of apparently innocent step towards federalism is when a proposal is made that a co-ordinating committee of Marxist-Leninist organizations should publish a discussion journal. Such a journal cannot be given any centralized guidance by the federalist organization. It is therefore very liable to be dominated by verbally skilful pushers of opportunist lines. Such a federalist journal becomes an obstacle, not an asset in Party building.
Yet another step towards federalism is the type of proposal that each organization should have the same number of delegates on a federalist committee. This appears very “fair” on the surface. But a system of delegates means that every comrade sitting on such a committee does not speak and act with the interests of the working class as his or her guiding principle. Instead, as a delegate, he must represent the interests of a small group and not the interests of the working class. Whenever there is a difficult problem, instead of boldly giving a correct lead, he insists he has to refer the matter back to his small group. All this turns democratic centralism on its head; it ends up with the rank and file discussing everything first, before the leading comrades can give any lead to them.
A federalist committee composed of delegates from the separate groups is a system in which the committee is subordinate to the groups. It can never peacefully evolve into a system in which the groups become branches subordinate to the higher level, the central committee. It can never peacefully evolve that way. The only way to implement the democratic centralist principle that “the lower level is subordinate to the higher level” is through conscious struggle.
A proposal for having equal number of delegates on a co-ordinating committee is a typical step towards federalism. It presents itself as being very fair. But it is very “fair” only to small group mentality and it is very unfair to the working class because federalism deprives the working class of its democratic centralist Party.
The CFBML and its predecessor, the J.C.C., had painful experience of how harmful all these innocent steps are down the opportunist blind alley of federalism. We hope all fellow Marxist-Leninists will listen to these warnings from us. Federalism is a recipe for stagnating many years in the marsh of opportunism. It causes harm to the working class.
We must reject the federal road and choose the correct short term organisational solution to the problems of Party building. That solution is to unite to form larger democratic centralist organisations.
We cannot unite the whole movement into one single democratic centralist organization all at once; but we can take important steps in that direction right now. Existing organizations in twos or threes must unite to form larger democratic centralist organisations. Each unification of two existing organizations, so long as it is done on a principled basis, and it implements democratic centralism, enables them to mobilize their forces more efficiently and powerfully to take the next step in Party building.
If all genuine Marxist-Leninist organizations took this up seriously and vigorously, within a year we could substantially reduce the figure of a dozen separate Marxist-Leninist organizations in Britain to perhaps half a dozen. If we repeat this again it will bring into sight far sooner than we expect the day when there is a single democratic centralist Party building organ1zation in Britain.
We must unite to form larger democratic centralist organizations. This is our specific immediate task in the organizational field.
But if our task is to cross a river we cannot cross it without a bridge or a boat. What method can we use to carry out this task? Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought points out the method.
In the first place, when two Marxist-Leninist organizations take up the task of uniting into a single democratic centralist organization, the essential thing, as Mao Tsetung said, is to start from the desire for unity. This must be our fundamental attitude.
A statement by Mao recently made public by the CPC is of very great importance in pointing out how to put this into practice: Chairman Mao issued this call:
Do more self-criticism and seek common ground on major questions while reserving differences on minor ones. (Peking Review 1976 No.49, p8.)
The whole Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain must study the meaning of this call, grasp both its overall approach and its guidance in specific detail and must use it in the struggle to form larger democratic centralist organizations. This fundamental approach is of tremendous significance.
At the same time we must not fall into liberalism. In the course of struggling for unity, organizations will come across certain major questions which are differences of principle. These muse not be glossed over. Such a liberal approach makes real unity impossible, and over a period of time it inevitably smashes what unity has already been won. If unity is sought through struggle it will live, if unity is sought through yielding it will perish.
The key slogan for handling the inevitable and important contradictions that occur in the course of a struggle for unity is summed up in a further call by Chairman Mao:
Struggle is the means to unity and unity is the aim of struggle. (’Current Problems of Tactics in the Anti-Japanese United Front’ Selected Readings, p184)
This is the key unlocking the major contradictions which close off the path to unity between Marxist-Leninist organisations.
Lenin made the same point in different words in ’What Is To Be Done?’:
In order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcations. (Peking Edition. p26).
Drawing lines of demarcation firmly and definitely is a skill which requires repeated practice to perform well. With perseverance we can master it and put it to good effect in Party building.
Struggles for militant democratic centralist unity are not time-consuming chores which prevent organizations making real progress toward Party building. Such struggles are crash courses in Marxism-Leninism. They force comrades to look with fresh eyes at issues which were long forgotten by them but which are crucial to the working class. They enable organizations to learn from each other’s strong points. Most importantly, as Mao Tsetung said: “What is correct invariably develops in the course of struggle with what is wrong”. Each struggle will help the organizations involved to contribute better in the next stage of applying Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the working class in Britain. Organizations will have to decide on first and second priorities among the other organisations with which they intend to struggle for unity. But no struggle is wasted in Party building so long as the comrades concerned strive to deepen their grasp of proletarian principle and learn from each other’s strong points.
Struggling to form larger democrat centralist organisations takes hard work; but it is a principled solution which is certain to bring big gains in building the Party of the working class over a period of time. Forming federations is an easier course in the short term but it is an opportunist solution which does not challenge small group mentality head on. Before long it gets stuck in the marsh of opportunism.
This choice between two paths, towards winning greater organizational unity lies before the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain. We must study, discuss, debate and struggle over it to ensure that the greatest possible number of comrades are firmly united to advance down the correct path the road of forming larger democratic centralist organizations!
There is much work to do in building the Party of the working class in Britain. But with determination to stick to principle and overcome obstacles one by one, we can turn a bad situation into a good situation. The road is tortuous. The future is bright!
In particular we must grasp the three key immediate tasks.
CRITICIZE SMALL GROUP MENTALITY!
CRITICIZE THE OPPORTUNIST ERRORS OF THE CPBML!
UNITE TO FORM LARGER DEMOCRATIC-CENTRALIST ORGANIZATIONS!
Executive Committee of the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)