In discussing the Marxist-Leninist movement we do not intend to comment on all the groups and on specific lines on party-building. However, we wish to deal with certain common errors and general weaknesses, referring to specific groups in doing so. The weaknesses of the movement in general are not surprising; with the triumph of revisionism in the CPGB and the growth of Trotskyist diversions it was mainly young, inexperienced individuals who took up the struggle for Marxism-Leninism in Britain. The point is to recognise, and learn from, their errors and to gain a new maturity in the movement.
The most common errors spring from two basic weaknesses, the first is the failure to make party-building the central point of all work, and to determine which are basic tasks, and the second is the failure to correctly relate theory and practice.
One of the most common errors arising from the failure to have a clear party-building line is that of confusing the broad front with the party. In many cases party aims, aims that only communists can accept, have been given to broad organisations. A few years ago, a leading exponent of this type of broad front work was the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League, as led by A. Manchanda. We should point out here that after Manchanda left the RM-LL it changed its name, and later was one of the groups merging to form our present CUA(M-L). We therefore have a special responsibility to criticise the RM-LL’s errors.
The RM-LL had no conscious, explicit line on how a party would be built although party-building was supposed to be its purpose as an organisation. It really engaged in no theoretical work to analyse Britain, and its practical work exclusively involved doing propaganda, holding meetings and film shows, through ’broad’ fronts. Friends of China, the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front, the Women’s Liberation Front and other such organisations were supposed to be ’broad’ fronts on various issues. However, in aims and in style of work they were so extremely sectarian that their membership was almost exclusively RM-LL members. The line of Manchanda was actually that the only difference between a broad organisation and a party was the higher discipline of a party.
This broad front activity was defended as being a contribution to party-building. It was somehow vaguely expected that this activity would create a climate in which a party would spontaneously grow. But all previous history of the international communist movement shows that the party must be consciously built by a leading core of Marxist-Leninists as was the case with Lenin and the Iskra group. Further, it is only when we have a revolutionary party that communists can work effectively in broad working class organisations, or broad fronts of any sort.
Manchanda’s style of work and sectarian line have led to his personal isolation. However, many of the leaders of various Marxist-Leninist groups have never fully broken with this broad front style. This applies to the Communist Workers’ League of Britain(Marxist-Leninist), the Association of Communist Workers and the Organisation for the Unity of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-tung Thought in Britain, among other organisations. Probably the height of this type of sectarian childishness was reached in the London Alliance, which adopted the aim of promoting the dictatorship of the proletariat, yet hoped to become a broad workers’ organisation with trade union affiliation. This organisation, which has since collapsed, also hoped to become a ’Marxist-Leninist broad front’ and attempts were made to bring different Marxist-Leninist groups under its umbrella. This was a type of federalist approach to party-building again, the hope being that groups within the alliance would grow together spontaneously. (l3)
Another error flowing from confusion on basic party-building tasks has been an exaggeration of the role of a newspaper in itself. Misunderstanding Lenin’s line on the role of the revolutionary paper in ’What is to be Done?’, some comrades have felt that a paper can be the principal way a party will be created. Some of such papers have lasted one issue, others for a few. The most successful, ’The Voice of the People’, while having a small propaganda value, has had little or no direct value in party-building.
Lenin saw the paper in relation to the task of uniting the Russian revolutionary movement ideologically and organisationally. He was able to put forward the correct political line in Iskra which made it the “collective propagandist, agitator and organiser” which prepared the way for the ideological and organisational unity and consolidation of the party. Our friends, possessing enthusiasm alone, found a paper and hope the line and policy will arrive spontaneously!
The point is that there is no leading line to present to the movement and the working class generally through any paper. Leadership is the question in party-building, and the party itself is revolutionary leadership in its most organised and effective form.
These errors involve a peculiar combination of sectarian arrogance with a shirking of responsibility for leadership. The party will not grow spontaneously from the different ’equal’ contributions of various groups. Leadership must be given, and the only correct reason for uniting in one communist organisation rather than another is because it gives a better load on party-building questions. It will do no good to call for discussions of issues hoping that correct ideas will spontaneously emerge. We must struggle to put forward the correct ideas, while listening to criticism from any source.
The sectarian approach to work is also connected with the failure to see the correct dialectical relationship between theory and practice. This failure has led to two hopeless errors in party-building, the line that the party will arise spontaneously from practical activity, and the line that the party will be created through theoretical work alone.
Many of our ’practical’ Marxist-Leninists have given numerous emotional calls to action, and derided theoreticians. It has been said that we have too much theory. In fact we were once told that “the British movement has produced too much theory and too little practice, get involved with the workers and practical activities”. Those who advocate such policies as solutions can only believe that the party will arise spontaneously from the workers. It is not surprising that the practical campaigns set up be Marxist-Leninists on this or that issue of police brutality or nurseries have ended in failure and disillusionment and not brought the party one step nearer. These campaigns fail to attract workers because they have no real relevant lead to offer, having no real analysis.
At the other extreme we have those who say that there is no place for practical work at all – theory comes first. The Association of Communist Workers has put forward the proposition that before we can do any practical work, we must get our theory right. This is also the line of the Association for the Realisation of Marxism. The CUA(M-L) holds that it would indeed be a miracle if we could get our theory straight without involving ourselves in the working class movement. While we stress the theoretical tasks, we see that the strategy for revolution, the political line as expressed in the party programme, will only be achieved by closely and concretely linking our theory and our practice, our theoretical and our practical work.