Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist)

Economism or Revolution? A Critique of the Communist Party of Britain (M-L)


The CPB (ML) document contains a section which so thoroughly rejects the Marxist-Leninist concept of the role of theory and, in fact, the Marxist-Leninist concept of the role of the party, that we wonder what purpose the CPB(ML) intends for itself:

Our Party, founded by industrial workers, must be a part of our class, must in every sense belong to our class. If we say that such a party is based on the working class as it must be to be revolutionary, then it cannot be above the working class, an intellectual force based on the theory of Marx separate from the working class. In fact the intellect; and the leadership must come from the working class, for it is this class force that makes revolution possible.

In a word, Marxism is not a separate theory, an intellectual force to be bestowed on the working class, but is, in fact, a derivative of that class.

Often the assertion that the working class is the force for revolution, that they make the revolution, is largely lip-service. It is rather considered that a revolutionary party is made up of special men whose knowledge of Marxist theory is a peculiar and unique study to be doled out to those more ignorant as the guiding spirit given a revolutionary situation. This concept is wrong, for it must of necessity make the theory of revolution the special art of the few and not that of the people, and must imply that the motive force, i.e. the working class, are inspired by the environmental situation and respond emotionally in anger and protest to revolution without knowing why, and that this ignorance is corrected by Marxist-Leninist; theory supplied by an elite body, i.e. the Party. This is in contradiction with the premise that the working class is a revolutionary force. It cannot be if it does not know the how and why of revolution.

So says the CPB(ML); but Lenin says:

The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of Socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals. According to their social status, the founders of modern scientific Socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose quite independently of the spontaneous growth of the working class movement..it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of ideas among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia.[20]

Lenin wrote these words in the course of the same polemic against; the Economists in the Russian movement that we referred to in the previous section on the economism of the CPB(ML). Just as the CPB (ML) echoes the line of those Economists on “lending the economic struggle itself a political character”, so it puts forward the same line on the spontaneous revolutionary qualities of, the working class. These old Russian Economists attacked Lenin for “belittling the significance of the objective or the spontaneous element of development”. They, like the CPB (ML), held the view that the position of the working class under capitalism, its oppression and exploitation and the spontaneous economic struggles generated by this, leads spontaneously, without the necessity for the theory of scientific socialism being introduced into the movement, to revolutionary consciousness. Lenin dealt with this theory of spontaneity in the following words:

Since there can be no talk of an independent; ideology being developed by the masses of the workers themselves in the process of their movement the choice is: either the bourgeois or the socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for humanity has not created a ’third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or above-class ideology.) Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn away from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is a lot of talk about spontaneity, but the spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its becoming subordinated to the bourgeois ideology...for the spontaneous working” class movement is trade unionism and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie., Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class movement from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.[21]

The CPB(ML) has rehashed this same old theory of spontaneity and has the brazenness to call it Marxism-Leninism! And the CPB(ML) puts this forward for precisely the same reasons as did the earlier Economists, namely as a ’theory’ to justify their opportunism, their abandon of long-term aims for their immediate advantage, materialised in their tailing behind the spontaneous, trade-union struggles of the masses, rather than fulfilling the task of working to introduce a revolutionary consciousness, a Marxist-Leninist consciousness into the mass movement. As Lenin said, these opportunists are “prepared to regard short-comings as virtues”, and they even try to “invent a theoretical basis for slavish cringing before spontaneity “[22]

But the opportunists of the CPB (ML) go farther than this; they attempt to justify their ’theory’ of spontaneity by telling us that unless we accept it we are ”in contradiction with the premise that the working class is a revolutionary force”. We have heard some of the CPB (ML) leaders elsewhere say things similar to:

Since Chairman Mao says that ’the people and the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history’ and that ’we must learn from the masses’, this means that the masses develop revolutionary consciousness by themselves, without ’intellectuals’, who have everything to learn from the masses, intervening.

The bourgeoisie has plenty of propagandists who maintain that the working class movement should be all economic struggle, that it is wrong for ’agitators’ and ’political propagandists’ to attempt to influence the working class. But how much more valuable to the bourgeoisie are those who put forward such views and call it Marxism-Leninism! How much more valuable to the bourgeoisie are the ’Marxists’ who distort and vulgarise Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-Tung Thought, to support such views.

Does the Marxist-Leninist theory of the unlimited revolutionary potential of the working class contradict the Marxist-Leninist; concept of the role of scientific, revolutionary theory, and the leading role of the party guided by this theory? Not in the least. The working class is not everywhere, always spontaneously filled with revolutionary consciousness, but the working class is the only truly revolutionary class because of its objective situation in society. Not owning the means of production, the working class is forced to sell its labour power in order to live, and as a result suffers exploitation and oppression. The liberation of the proletariat, and the liberation of all mankind, can only be achieved by the overthrow of private property and therefore of all exploitation and oppression and by the introduction of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Further, only the victory of the proletariat can free the immense productive power of the existing large-scale industrialisation and the socialised means of production brought about by capitalism, which are now fettered by capitalist private property relations. Only the proletariat can bring about the liberation of mankind, since only the proletariat has “nothing to lose but its chains”.

Since the proletariat is the only revolutionary class, proletarian theory must lead all revolutions in the era of imperialism even in countries where the workers are a small minority. Only the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism- Mao Tse-Tung Thought represents the interests of the working class, explaining the great historic task of the working class to end all exploitation and oppression through proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the working class does not “spontaneously” acquire this revolutionary consciousness of its historic mission. The exploitation and oppression of the workers forces them, to spontaneously develop a rudimentary class consciousness, to spontaneously develop defensive struggle, trade union struggles, to preserve their standard of living against the greed and rapacity of the capitalists. Revolutionary class consciousness, the understanding of the proletariat’s role in history based on a scientific understand of history and economic relations, does not arise spontaneously. On the contrary, the class consciousness spontaneously generated by, the class struggle is constantly being overwhelmed in the working class by the terrific onslaught, from every direction, of bourgeois ideology in its most corrupt, debased form and by the systematic educational and’ intellectual deprivation perpetrated on the working class by its ’betters’. This remains true in an era of wide-spread literacy among the working class, when the thoroughness, and all-pervasiveness of corrupt, bourgeois ideology is stepped up to compensate for the danger to the bourgeoisie of working class literacy which might lead to working class knowledge and political consciousness.

Is this a repudiation of the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the nature of the working class, or of Chairman Mao’s belief in the ”boundless creative power of the masses? Indeed not. On the contrary, we believe in the revolutionary potential of the working class, but we say that it is the task of revolutionaries to combat the effects of bourgeois ideology in the working class, to release the revolutionary potential of the working class and the initiative and creativity of the masses. But also, we must learn from the masses the true spirit of self-sacrifice and heroism of which they are capable when this spirit is released. We must learn from them the class consciousness of which they are capable. We must learn to understand their thoughts and their sufferings. We must do this in order to transform ourselves as revolutionaries, into true “servants of the people” in order to know how to impart theory to the masses.

To attempt, as the CPB (ML) does, to equate this Marxist-Leninist concept of the leading role of theory and of the party with a concept of ’elitism’ is totally dishonest and a most thorough and complete bourgeois distortion. There is a theory of ’elitism’ held by anarchists and sometimes adopted certain ’Marxists’, which holds either that the revolution is made by certain ’heroes’ who directly make it by their own unaided efforts, by a coup or by terrorist activities, or that these heroes are able to manipulate somehow the blind ignorant multitude to carryout the revolution under their, direction. But Marxist-Leninists, unlike these elitists and unlike the opportunists of the CPB (ML), hold that it is the role of revolutionaries and of the revolutionary party, to thoroughly and painstakingly study the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism, struggle unceasingly to make this theory the property of the masses, to combat bourgeois ideology in the working class and to release the revolutionary energy of the masses, for it is the masses of the working class who will make the revolution, not a select band of heroes. But the masses can only do this if they are led to develop a revolutionary class consciousness.

Opportunists like the CPB (ML) leadership and the anarchists are similar in essence, for both despise the masses and despair of raising their political consciousness. The CPB (ML) says in effect: we will not take up the hopeless task of rousing mass political consciousness, but instead will tail behind their economic struggles, while making up a theory of the spontaneous revolutionary nature of the working class.

The anarchists say, more brazenly:

The masses are hopeless. It is we heroes who will make the revolution.

Both varieties of opportunism reflect bourgeois ideology in despising the masses. Chairman Mao says:

No political party can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it possesses revolutionary theory and a knowledge of history and has a profound grasp of the practical movement.[23]


To be good at translating the Party’s policy into action of the masses, to be good at getting not only the leading cadres but also the broad masses to understand and master every movement and every struggle we launch: – this is an art of Marxist-Leninist leadership. It is also the dividing line that determines whether or not we make mistakes in our work.[24]

and also:

It is man is social being that determines his thinking. Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world.[25]

Possibly the CPB(ML) leadership thinks that Chairman Mao has elitist ideas.

But the question raised in the CPB (ML) document concerning ’intellectuals’ versus ’workers’ must be dealt with. Certainly the revolutionary class is the working class, and intellectuals of non-working class origin must conduct a very arduous struggle to rid themselves of petty-bourgeois traits in order to fully adopt a proletarian class stand, if they are to become revolutionaries. This task is difficult, and most bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements fail, but some become revolutionaries. To say that “intellect and leadership must come from the working class” is to say that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, not one of whom was an industrial worker, had no business ’usurping’ the leadership of the revolutionary movement.

But what is the anti-intellectual line of the CPB (ML)? Precisely, in Lenin his words:

The extremely curious phenomenon (in the revolutionary movement) that the adherents of the ’pure’ working class movement, the worshippers of the closest ’organic’ contacts… with the proletarian struggle, the opponents of any non-worker intelligentsia (even if it be a socialist intelligentsia)are compelled, in order to defend their positions, to resort to the arguments of the bourgeois ’pure’ trade unionists.[26]

The CPB (ML), in order to defend its opportunist politics, is “compelled” to adopt exactly the same sort of anti-intellectual arguments that the most reactionary elements in the trade union movement use. This is the cheapest sort of demagogy; appeals to the most backward attitudes among workers, such as the idea that “intellectual” scientific theory and education are not for workers, and that anyone introducing such ideas to the working class movement is suspect. This demagogic appeal is usually conveyed not in words but by adopting an attitude and manner that proclaim: My ignorance is really a virtue in a leader, for it shows that I am an ordinary worker, not a suspect ’intellectual’ like those others who try to raise revolutionary political ideas among us.

We support revolutionary socialist intellectuals from whatever class they originate, and oppose bourgeois intellectuals, and further we are for as many workers as possible becoming revolutionary intellectuals. To blindly oppose ’intellectuals’and ’intellectualism’ is to support the carefully cultivated bourgeois attitude among workers that books and learning are not for them and are beyond them. Books, learning, scientific thought and philosophy of a revolutionary nature must be taken up by the workers.

This anti-intellectualism is another form of opposing the introduction of revolutionary theory to the working class, and supports the theory of the ’spontaneous’ revolutionary nature of workers.

This anti-intellectualism is another form of opposing the introduction of revolutionary theory to the working class, and supports the theory of the ’spontaneous’ revolutionary nature of workers. On this question, one last word should be said. Among young, in experienced adherents of the revolutionary movement, particularly those not from industrial working class backgrounds, there is frequently a romantic misinterpretation of the Marxist conception of the revolutionary nature of the working class, which constructs an imaginary revolutionary worker, as unlike real workers as the 18th century conception of the ’noble savage’ was unlike real Mohawks or Polynesians. These romantic conceptions are liable to lead to grave disillusionment when encounters with real workers take place. This attitude is similar in some ways to the ’spontaneity’ theory of the Economists. However, the economist view is based on opportunism, whereas the romantic view is based principally on inexperience, and this distinction is very important. It is certainly not the case that the trade unionists in the CPB (ML) have formulated their views in romantic ignorance of what real workers are like.

The Marxist-Leninist line on mass work, how to carry out the principal task of’ arousing and guiding the revolutionary mass movement, has been brilliantly expounded by Chairman Mao:

Take the ideas of the masses and concentrate them, then go to the masses, persevere in the ideas and carry them through, so as to form correct ideas of leadership such is the basic method of leadership.


In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses to the masses’.[27]

It is because the party is guided by the most correct theory, drawn from the social experience of all humanity throughout history, that it is able to know what mass ideas to concentrate and to take back to the masses, in order to show the masses, through their own experience, the correctness of the revolutionary teachings of Marxism-Leninism, and to lead the masses to make revolution.

The deepest love for, and the most complete devotion to the interests of, the masses of the people, is the central element of the spirit of communism. We must also understand fully the infinite revolutionary and creative capacity of the labouring masses, So long despised as ’backward’ and ’ignorant’ by their exploiters. Every class conscious proletarian understands that the ’backwardness’ and ’ignorance’ of the workers has been imposed upon them by the evil system of exploitation and oppression, and that as the masses become aroused, they will display a rigour and creativity beyond anything the world has ever seen! But the ’spontaneity’ theory of the CPB(ML), by negating the Marxist-Leninist concept of the revolutionary party, is essentially based on despising the masses and refusing to work to make revolutionary theory the property of the masses themselves. On the most central reason for the party’s existence the CPB (ML) is anti-Marxist.


[20] What is to be Done? p.37

[21] Ibid, p.49. Again, all the emphasis is from Lenin.

[22] Ibid, p.40

[23] Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung, Peking 1967, p.4

[24] Ibid, p.131

[25] Ibid, p.2O6

[26] What is to be Done?, p.46

[27] Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung, p.128