In speaking of building the necessary conditions for a party we emphasised the central importance of the theoretical tasks of analysing British society and developing a political strategy, a party programme. It is not by abstract study and discussion, but only by uniting theory with practice, that this can be done.
The bourgeois conception held by many so-called Marxists is that analysis and political theorising require only academic work such as research into statistics, books and authorities, engaging in discussion and putting forward and defending a position. We certainly cannot neglect research, reading and discussing books, publishing our views and so on. This, however, is not the most important, and certainly not the only, way we develop our theoretical analysis and political line.
Several principles must be understood: first, correct ideas emerge in the struggle against incorrect ideas; secondly, the general line guides the particular line on specific issues, but it only emerges in the process of uniting the ideas springing from specific issues; thirdly, and most fundamental, all correct ideas emerge from practice, from material reality, and must be tested in practice. We certainly must draw on the practice of others, learned from books, but to develop a revolutionary-political line for Britain we must begin to apply our theory to our own practice and so help to develop a correct understanding of British conditions.
When speaking of conducting an analysis and developing a political line, we mean engaging in research, study and discussion, but also much more than this. Combatting opportunists and openly bourgeois forces in practical struggles is as necessary to a correct understanding of them as is reading about, and publishing attacks on, their general theoretical lines. We must engage in such struggles, in broad agitational and propaganda work, and in basic working class economic and political defensive organisations.
All communist leaders have referred to three aspects of the struggle, theoretical, political and economic, and have made clear the necessity of engaging in all three at every stage. We can in this way refer to the theoretical work of analysis and synthesis as separate from political work to propagandise and agitate among workers, and from the work of organising and conducting struggles in defence of workers’ immediate economic needs. But these are all necessary aspects of one whole. Theoretical work is the concentration and forming of generalisations from the experience gained in practice and its sole purpose is to guide practice. Specifically, we must understand the necessity of connecting theoretical work, with practical work in political agitation and in workers’ economic struggles.
Political agitation is the struggle to raise class consciousness through leading struggles on, or commenting on, specific issues or events. When events have recently occurred, or where issues directly affect the workers immediately, a communist line on these will be more readily listened to and understood.
Through such specific issues, aspects of capitalist society can be exposed, the workers’ spirit of resistance sharpened and working class unity consolidated. Such agitation must be directed by a correct general understanding of capitalism and how to fight it. Various means of carrying out agitational work must be developed, but the most practical and appropriate means available to us is through a popular workers’ newspaper. The more frequent and regular such a newspaper can be, the more effective will be the agitation contained in it.
When Marxist-Leninists, lacking a thorough analysis and developed political strategy, as we do, conduct such work they will find difficulty in commenting effectively on many issues and will doubtless make mistakes. But we can learn from these mistakes, and the struggle to project a communist line on all important specific events forces us to orientate our struggle to present-day realities and throws up ideas which enrich and deepen our understanding. A correct general line, isolates the most basic, underlying contradictions in a mass of contradictions, the major features-from the immense detail of social life. But it is from a real mastery of the detail, not by ignoring it, that the most basic processes can be understood. Therefore the understanding gained in attempting to explain this or that government policy, a big strike, a national liberation struggle or an act of racist terror, is of great relevance to our struggle for a correct general analysis of British imperialism.
Unless such agitational work is conducted, we shall not be forced to connect our ideas to the actual political and economic struggles going on around us, and tie inadequacy of our analysis to account for and explain various events will not be revealed to us. On the other hand, unless those conducting agitation are simultaneously engaged in struggling for a general analysis and line, their agitational line will remain nothing but disconnected platitudes and empty, mechanical comment on events which can lead to nothing but error.
Just as fundamental is the necessity for the practical economic struggles of workers to be connected to the struggle for a general-revolutionary strategy. Under capitalism, the exploitation and oppression of the workers forces collective struggles to defend their standard of living to arise. Such struggles are necessary and arise, spontaneously. They are limited in their essential nature to defensive struggles, but are schools for the basic lessons of the collective strength of the working class and of the nature of the oppressing class.
Communists must engage in such work in trades unions or tenants’ associations in order to struggle against opportunist misleadership perverting even their defensive effectiveness, to build links among the masses and to raise the consciousness of the workers to a higher level than the economic struggle provides and draw them into the political struggle to overthrow capitalism.
As for the relationship of this work to theoretical tasks, we must remember the importance of communists having the firmest, deepest, living roots in the working class. Only by direct involvement in such basic organisations of struggle can we learn the needs and ideas of the workers first hand. Only then can the devious methods and policies of opportunist demagogues, revisionists and social democrats be closely observed. Only there can we have the opportunity, in even a limited way, of putting our ideas and theories into direct practical application and of mastering the difficult art of translating general theory into simple ideas readily grasped by the masses. Nothing exposes the inadequacy of high-flown fanciful theorising so clearly as the attempt to explain it in concrete practical terms. Conversely, communists working in trades unions or tenants’ associations will perform no differently from any other leader or member unless they constantly struggle to connect such work with the struggle to build a revolutionary general line aimed at overthrowing capitalism.
Such work frequently requires a great amount of effort for only small immediate gains and it requires patience and determination and can be tedious and unexciting for long periods. Only limited gains are possible even with victories in such defensive struggles, and in themselves they do not form sufficient basis for full political consciousness. There is nothing to recommend such work to romantic petty bourgeois ’revolutionary heroes’, or to intellectual ’armchair revolutionaries’. But for Marxist-Leninists’ who wish to build a party based on the working class, with a strategy based on their needs and capable of expression in terms of their ideas, such work is necessary and its fundamental importance over-rides the fact that it is time-consuming, detailed work when we are also under the pressing necessity to study, do research, write pamphlets and so on.
These forms of practical work, in the fields of political and economic agitation, are half-way steps towards putting our general theories into application. In developing theory, Marxists base themselves on practice, on material reality, and the test of theory is testing and retesting in practice. Ultimately, the test of our line will be whether a party is built and whether it is able to lead a revolutionary movement to establish and defend the dictatorship of the proletariat and to build socialism. At present, Marxist-Leninists do not lead vast armies of the working class and only the course of time can test many of our ideas in practice. So far as agitational work enables us to do so, we must exercise what leadership we can and test our ideas as far as possible.
It is important to emphasise the correct method of conducting practical struggles. Our practice is necessarily limited in scope since our numbers and general influence over workers are small as yet. Our theory is incomplete, we do not yet have a full analysis of British conditions. However, the practical work we engage in must be planned in terms of the analysis we have, incomplete as it is.
For example, our incomplete analysis identifies a bought-off stratum of the working class, the labour aristocracy, which, through the Labour Party, revisionists and trade union bureaucrats, exerts a bourgeois influence in workers’ struggles. The existence of this stratum and its role in serving imperialism has been proven by the experience of many years of working class struggle. When we engage in economic struggles we must attempt to expose this stratum to the mass of ordinary workers and defeat its influence. The extent to which we find that our experience of struggle deepens our understanding of the role of this stratum and teaches us how to combat it and the success or failure of our efforts, must be directly related back to our struggle for a general analysis.
We have discussed the question of practical work with comrades from various organisations who deny its importance at present. They say that they must concentrate on theoretical tasks and in particular, they do not see the necessity or usefulness of engaging in trade unions or tenants movements at present. These comrades claim that we cannot correctly lead these struggles without a party, that they will be carried out with or without our participation and that until we have built a theoretical line and leading strategy we are wasting our time in such work.
It is true that we are not in a position politically or organisationally to lead great mass struggles or to integrate such struggles with the consciously political revolutionary struggle. And while we can do much useful work, it is not true that we are indispensable to such struggles seen simply as defensive struggles. However, involvement in such struggles is indispensable to us, to our development as communists and to our struggle to build the party. Without the lessons learned in such work, our theoretical work will inevitably be abstract, academic and out of touch with reality, and it will not have a sound working class orientation.
This whole question of the struggle at this stage, and at every stage, to unite theory and practice cannot be overemphasized. Those who ignore theory, leave it at home when they go to practical work, almost invariably fall into opportunist, ’right ’ errors since they can see only the immediate struggle for higher wages, or to build an organisation’s numbers. This is the general feature of the ’left’ in Britain, where the British ’pragmatical’, practical approach is even boasted about! In Marxist-Leninist party-building struggles, it takes the form of blind efforts to develop practice, build organisation, without developing or making relevant a revolutionary political line.
Thost who ignore practice, engaging only in ’theory’, almost invariably fall into ’left’ sectarian errors, remain incapable of relating their theory to the concrete, immediate workers’ problems, and of creating policies effective in struggle. This is a common feature of much of the Marxist-Leninist movement, an over-reaction to the narrow, opportunist practice of the revisionists, social democrats and Trotskyists in Britain. In the party-building struggle, it takes the form of dogmatically repeating Marxist texts, but refusing to struggle to apply them to British conditions.
The central party-building task involved in the creation of the three necessary conditions of ideological and political unity and unity with the working class is developing a political line for working class revolution.
A political line is nothing other than a policy uniting general theory with concrete struggles. Simultaneous involvement with theoretical work and concrete struggles is therefore fundamental to the building of a correct political line and the revolutionary party.