First Published: Revolution No. 3, January 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The article ’Unity Is The Aim Of Struggle’ is a criticism by the National Committee of the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) of the Fourth Congress Statement of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Liberalism and small group mentality on our part prevented a principled criticism from being made before. Through active ideological struggle we have grasped that there must be a struggle for unification of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain, as part of the process of building the revolutionary Communist Party. In the course of this struggle firm lines of demarcation must be drawn, and errors criticised and corrected.
The criticism concentrates on five major errors in the CPB(ML) statement. These are:
1. The document does not grasp the danger from Soviet Social Imperialism.
2. It does not grasp the existence of imperialism in the World.
3. It does not grasp the imperialist nature of British society.
4. It falls into petty-bourgeois pessimism about the fact that the working class will inevitably carry out the socialist revolution.
5. Parts of it are written in a very subjectivist style of language.
There are some other errors too which may turn out to be important in the future but it was necessary to concentrate on the main ones at first.
In studying this criticism, we urge that all Marxist-Leninists should concentrate, at the start, on grasping the nature of the first error, out of the five criticised Soviet Social Imperialism is one of the two main enemies of the peoples of the world. It is the up and coming superpower, challenging the United States for supremacy. It is demanding the right to carve up the world again in the way it wants, not the way the United States wants. It is preparing for war. The main danger of war comes from the Soviet Union. Because the revisionist bosses in the Soviet Union talk of socialism and peace, some people do not yet fully understand that – the Soviet Union is one of the two main enemies of the workers and oppressed people of the entire world. All the more reason then why revolutionary Communists should take a clear cut stand on this question and give a firm lead to the working class.
* * *
A criticism by the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) of the Statement adopted at the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style, it is impossible to lead the working class and the broad masses of the people in defeating imperialism... (Mao Tsetung, Quotations, 1)
For this reason the central task in Britain today is to build the revolutionary Communist party of the working class. We have achieved much too little progress so far in this task.
Owing to liberalism and small group mentality, the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain is divided into a dozen small groups, organisations and Parties. Out of these probably the largest organisation and the one which is most widely respected is the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). It has fraternal relations with the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania, and a significant number of serious revolutionary Communists rally to it, in order to contribute to the task of building the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class.
For these reasons, a correct assessment of the CPB (ML) by all British Marxist-Leninists is essential. Every other Marxist-Leninist organisation in Britain has a duty to the working class to draw firm and, definite lines of demarcation with the CPB(ML) and struggle to overcome the contradictions with the CPB(ML) by active ideological struggle, criticism and self criticism. Every Marxist-Leninist organisation in Britain which does not do so is guilty of liberalism and small group mentality, which at present is very widespread in the British Marxist-Leninist movement. This document is the first time the CFB(ML) has used the weapon of active ideological struggle to win principled unity with the CPB(ML).
In 1973 the third issue of ’Marxist-Leninist Quarterly’, the old theoretical journal of the CFB(ML) carried an article above the initials “T.M.”, which contained a severely subjectivist and sectarian attack on the CPB(ML). This article has been completely withdrawn and has been refuted in the second issue of ’Revolution’, the new theoretical journal of the CFB (ML).
Earlier this year, the CFB(ML) sent the CPB(ML), as well as other Marxist-Leninist organisations, a copy of the boldly self-critical resolution of the Third Conference of the CFB(ML), together with the explanatory article, “Build the Revolutionary Communist Party Do Lead the Revolution”. The CFB(ML) requested comments and criticisms, but the CPB(ML) did not reply. This is a manifestation of liberalism and small group mentality on the part of the CPB(ML).
The CFB(ML) must now draw correct and principled lines of demarcation with the CPB(ML), following Lenin’s famous statement:
Before we can unite and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite tines of demarcation. (“What Is To Be Done?”, Peking edition, p26)
The struggle for unity will take some time but with perseverance it will succeed. As Mao Tsetung says: “unity is the aim of struggle; struggle is the means to unity”.
This must be our guiding motto in this work. It will ensure that the struggle serves the cause of the working class.
The CPB(ML) has recently published the Statement adopted at their Fourth Congress, held at Easter 1976. In order to draw the necessary lines of demarcation, we must make a critical assessment of this document.
The CPB(ML) has some important positive achievements to its credit. This must be said first. From its foundation in 1968, it boldly raised the flag of the working class and called on all advanced workers and genuine Marxist-Leninists to rally to the Party of the working class. By contrast the Communist Federation of Britain put forward a line defending the existence of the small groups and opposing attempts to rally round a proletarian centre. It put forward the idea of the federal road to Party building, which in words says that the working class needs a revolutionary Communist Party, but in deeds repeatedly compromises opportunistically with small group mentality, does not build national leadership, and does not implement democratic centralism, the fighting organizational principle of the working class.
The CPB(ML) has always spelt out clearly that the revolutionary Communist Party must be the patty of the working class. By contrast the CFB (ML) has been vague and elusive on this point in the past, reflecting the stand of the intelligentsia.
The Statement of the Fourth Congress of the CPB(ML) contains other strong points as well. It state clearly that only the working class can lead the people of Britain out of the present crises of capitalism and the only way out is by socialist revolution. It points out vividly how Britain is “providing us with the clearest demonstration obtaining anywhere of the fatal stranglehold which capitalist property relations place upon the social forces of production” (p6) – in other words, the fundamental contradiction in capitalist society.
The Statement illustrates these points – with an excellent assembly of striking facts. Comrades in the CPB(ML) must have gathered these through painstaking study and thorough investigation work. Investigation is a field of work in which the CFB(ML) – has much further progress to make – and it should welcome the opportunity to learn from the CPB(ML) on this point.
However there are also serious errors in the CFB(ML)’s Fourth Congress Statement. In order to draw lines of demarcation clearly and promote ideological struggle, these errors must now be criticised firmly.
The principal contradiction in the world today is between the peoples of the world and the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Of these the Soviet Union is the more dangerous. The Statement fails to grasp this truth and to warn the British working class about it.
Economically, the United States is still more powerful than the Soviet Union. But US imperialism has passed its noon and is now in decline. It is overstretched, and has already suffered some serious defeats. The victory of the Vietnamese People’s War of National Liberation was a very important defeat for us imperialism. Subsequently it has had to retreat further in other areas, including Angola.
The Soviet Union is more dangerous than the United States precisely because it is the rising imperialist power. Like Nazi Germany in the 1930’s it is insisting on a redivision of the world. It is flexing its muscles and demanding more and more concessions from US imperialism. It is a more highly centralised state than the US and its ruling class operates a dictatorship over the people of a fascist type. Therefore, although economically the Soviet Union is weaker overall than the US, it can spend a larger sum of money on armaments, and is fast overtaking the US militarily. The Soviet Navy has been built up extremely rapidly. It has the largest navies in the north east Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. At a time of international tension it will be in a position to surround Western Europe and cut vital communications such as for oil. In Europe the Soviet-controlled land forces have clear military superiority and are trained for rapid surprise attack. Western strategists calculate that the Soviet Union now threatens Western Europe with the ability to get troops to the Rhine within 48 hours.
It is especially important that the working class of Western Europe should be alerted to the threat from Soviet Social Imperialism, because Europe is the main focus of the Soviet Union’s ambitions and of superpower contention. Europe is the most concentrated area of industrial wealth in the world and is the juiciest prize in the struggle between the two superpowers.
The Soviet Union is the more dangerous superpower also because it is treacherous and deceptive. It speaks of socialism but practises imperialism. It speaks of peace but arms and trains for expansionist war. It speaks of detente but takes one step after another to force other countries to accept its imperialist ambitions or face the consequences of its anger.
The CPB(ML) Congress Statement fails to grasp this. The Statement asks:
Is detente a sham? Is it some perfidious plot by the New Revisionists, the more easily to seize Europe and perhaps the world? (p2)
The correct answer to these questions is “Yes!”; but instead the CPB(ML) replies:
No. It does not exist. US imperialism has no detente with anyone. Neither has the USSR, not even in Comecon. The sham detente from within the USSR is as much to do with the collapse of socialism within the USSR and the internal contradictions because of it, as for any external pressures and external contradictions.
This completely fails to grasp that the Soviet Union has a new bourgeois ruling class, a new imperialist bourgeoisie that cannot but show its imperialist class nature. Imperialism means war. The imperialist politics of the USSR ruling class are but the prelude to the imperialist war which will be their “continuation by other means” – by force of arms. Yes it is true the Soviet imperialist bourgeoisie faces internal contradictions. In the long term Soviet Social Imperialism is a paper tiger. But in the short term it is also a real tiger, which we must mobilise the British working class to be ready to fight.
The Fourth Congress Statement says:
Those who say, if they do, beware of the imperialist designs of the USSR state the obvious.
This appears to recognise the fact that the Soviet Union is an imperialist superpower, but in fact it dismisses the question as not worthy of further attention. A little later the Statement refers to “so-called ’social imperialism”. All this makes it clear that the CPB(ML) has not firmly grasped that the Soviet Union is the more dangerous superpower, and the most dangerous source of war, and is not preparing the working class about this question.
Because of this error the Fourth Congress Statement falls into a one-sided view of the Common Market, failing to see that the Common Market has a progressive aspect to the extent that it enables the peoples and countries of Western Europe to stand up better against the two superpowers.
The Statement makes a further serious error in relation to the principal contradiction in the world today between the peoples of the world and the two superpowers. The Statement completely fails to grasp that the peoples of the Third World, the developing countries, are the main force in the struggle against the two imperialist superpowers. It says:
For our party there is but one world. (p1)
The division of the world into 1,2, 3, is artificial and mechanistic. (p2)
This completely fails to recognise the great importance of the Third World. Ultimately it denies Lenin’s famous thesis:
The characteristic feature of imperialism is that the whole world, as we see, is now divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations which command colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. (Lenin on the National and Colonial Questions, Peking edition, p31; from ’The Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Questions’, July 26th 1920.)
Today no other nation can match the United States and the Soviet Union for colossal wealth and powerful armed forces.
Britain is one of the second world countries, minor imperialist powers, which waver between the two superpowers and the Third World countries. The revolutionary Communist Party must teach the working class to lead the British people to fight all imperialism, especially the imperialism of the two superpowers, and to ally with the oppressed peoples of the world. It must teach the working class to put pressure on the British government to line up consistently with Third World countries against the two superpowers.
The CPB(ML) does not yet grasp this at all. Instead of pointing out the positive revolutionary strengths of the Third World countries it puts the main emphasis on warning:
there are especial dangers inherent within the so-called developing countries and within the liberation struggles today. (p2)
By contrast the CPB(ML) seems to think that Britain should lead the world in revolution:
We were the first modern proletariat, once again we must lead: the opportunity is ours, if we seize it others will follow as before. (p7).
This is quite incorrect.
Although British imperialism is well past the peak of its power in the world, it is essential to grasp that Britain is still an imperialist country. Yet British imperialism is never mentioned in the entire 16 page Congress Statement. The word, “imperialism”, does not appear at all in the section on Britain (pages 6-7).
The Statement almost completely ignores the fact that Britain’s relations with the rest of the world have been, and very largely still are ones of imperialist plunder. It glosses over this fact with the following words:
The triumph of the industrial revolution in Britain heralded the birth of a new world order, the epoch of capitalism. For where we led others were compelled to follow. (p6)
A little later the Statement merely describes Britain as having been “the workshop of the world”. To gloss over British imperialism in this way is to fall into social chauvinism.
This error is closely linked to the CPB(ML)’s seriously incorrect “two classes” theory, which says that there are only two classes in Britain. It ignores the existence of a relatively privileged section of workers within this imperialist society. The CPB(ML)’s Congress Statement says:
The division of society into two as it has developed here has no parallel. This is the most proletarian of countries. (p7).
On the contrary, there is a substantial privileged stratum of workers who provide a social base for the severe opportunism within the British working class movement.
Ignoring and denying this will have most serious consequences for the future. It will be much harder to protect the revolutionary Communist Party of the working class from the opportunist ideology brought in by this stratum. Secondly it will be impossible to handle correctly the contradiction between the working class and the middle strata in order to build a great united front under the leadership of the working class of all who can be united against the British imperialist bourgeoisie.
The Communist Manifesto points out that the fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat “are equally inevitable”. One of the most important tasks of revolutionary Communists is constantly to teach the working class this great historic truth. Mao Tsetung says:
We should carry on constant propaganda among the people on the fact of world progress and the bright future ahead so that they will build their confidence in victory. (Quotations, p196)
But the CPB(ML)’s Congress Statement repeatedly falls into petty bourgeois pessimism.
It talks of “the backwardness of the. ...proletariat” (p1). On page 2 it says, “The forces of Marxism-Leninism in Europe are woefully weak.” On page 5 the Statement says, “The Labour movement is in process of awesome dangerous change”. On the following page it says our rulers “will certainly destroy us if we stay our hand.” On pages 9 and 15 it speaks about “the present desperate situation”. On page 13 there is a longer passage with the same petty bourgeois pessimistic theme:
And all the while the (working) class repudiates its own heritage. Scabs are found to act against their unions and membership is mute. The development of company unionism, if not actively connived at, proceeds unchecked: more officials are appointed to union posts; sheer apathy allows the ruling class to call the tune. At present their approach is still largely persuasive. But how long before persuasion gives way to coercion as the full horror of their policy becomes more apparent and as our resistance becomes weaker? How soon before another reign of terror, when ’in conspiracy’ becomes once more a feature of working class resistance? The attack on the civil liberties of the individual and on the most rooted and democratic of our institutions is at stake, those that would willingly would surely be fit instruments to enslave their brothers.
On page 14 the Statement continues the same gloomy and demoralising theme:
The situation is fraught as never before. Affrighted by circumstance, chary of combat and in dreadful disarray is the army of labour. It is difficult indeed to discern any battle formation at all. Which way to the front? Meanwhile the master class prepares a truly dreadful peace.
In essence, the CPB(ML) is trying to scare the working class into being revolutionary.
All this is completely contrary to the bold, fearless stand of the proletariat, to the determination and perseverance of the Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains. It is petty bourgeois pessimism.
The historical roots of this error by the CPB (ML) are these. Although the CPB (ML) was one of the first British Marxist-Leninist organizations to declare itself a Party, it has not systematically set about building the Party. The result is that the party has largely remain one in name only. Unless we firmly grasp the importance of building a really strong revolutionary communist party as the vanguard of the working class, a well-disciplined party armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism, using the method of self-criticism and linked with the masses of the people – unless we understand this, we cannot see how to lead the working class forward to the revolution. Instead we fall into despair.
It is true that the British working class has shown a lower level of militancy in the last two years. But this is not because they are fundamentally backwards. It is because they do not have a strong enough revolutionary Communist party to lead them. Mao Tsetung points out:
If the masses alone are active 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)
It is because the CPB(ML) do not understand that the revolutionary Communist Party has to be built and not just declared to be in existence, that it is now falling into petty bourgeois pessimism and calling the workers weak and backward.
The first four sections of the Congress Statement, from page 1 to the middle of page 6 are written in a strange style which is often difficult to understand. It is the same style as is used by one of the leading members of the organisation when speaking publicly.
The style can be called oracular. It is like an oracle: it sounds as if it is saying something very profound, but the meaning is hard to pin down. In Mao Tsetung’s words, “it strikes a pose in order to intimidate people”. It is “pretentious with the deliberate aim of intimidating people.” Mao goes on:
Those who write subjectivist and sectarian articles and speeches in the form of Party stereotypes fear refutation, are very cowardly, and therefore rely on pretentiousness to overawe others, believing they can thereby silence people and ’win the day’. Such pretentiousness cannot reflect truth but is an obstacle to truth. Truth does not strike a pose to overawe people but talks and acts honestly and sincerely. (’Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing”’. Selected Readings, 1971, p192)
With the CPB(ML) Congress Statement, what is even more dangerous than the risk of intimidating people is that it is often hard to understand what it means. For example, on page 5 the Statement says:
the party must demand self-sufficiency, self-reliance within the line in all localities in all branches.
This sounds impressive but on closer examination self-sufficiency and self-reliance are not the same thing and there is a big difference between them. Self-reliance means relying mainly on your own efforts. Self-sufficiency means relying exclusively on your own efforts.
The next sentence in the Congress Statement says:
The caretaker, the director of the whole, the Central Committee.
But there is a very big difference between a caretaker role and a director role. Furthermore to call the Central Committee the mere “caretaker” of the line practised by the branches, could never be correct. It is a betrayal of democratic centralism and robs the working class of the voluntary iron discipline necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie.
The style of the opening parts of the Congress Statement is vague and elusive. This is a manifestation of opportunism. As Lenin said, a characteristic feature of opportunism is:
its vagueness, its diffuseness, its elusiveness. (’One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’, Section Q)
The opening four sections of this Congress Statement appear to have been settled by the draft of one man, which has not been criticised by his comrades in order to remove some glaring inconsistencies and grossly obscure passages. The fact that such major errors of style exist among leading comrades of the CPB(ML) eight years after its foundation is more important than the erroneous passages themselves. It points to a more fundamental error – the absence of healthy criticism and self-criticism, which would have overcome such errors of style within a few years. It points to an inner party life where things can be settled by the word of one man, an inner party life which is not democratic-centralist, but bureaucratic-centralist.
These are the main errors which should be criticised in the Statement adopted by the Fourth Congress of the CPB(ML):
1. Failure to grasp the danger from Soviet Social Imperialism.
2. Failure to understand imperialism throughout the world.
3. Failure to grasp the imperialist nature of British society.
4. Petty-bourgeois pessimism.
5. Subjectivist style of writing.
There are other subordinate errors which may be important for the future and which must be struggled over at a later time.
The errors in the CPB(ML) Congress Statement are serious, but not so serious that they cannot be overcome through bold self-criticism. They are no worse than the serious errors that the CFB(ML) is overcoming through bold criticism and self-criticism and internal ideological struggle. Such bold self-criticism will greatly strengthen the fighting capacity of the fine, honest comrades in the CPB(ML) and ensure they play a more valuable part in the struggle to build a strong, genuine revolutionary Communist Party of the working class.
In conclusion, the CFB(ML) warmly urges the CPB(ML) to take these criticisms seriously, to correct mistakes if it has made them, guard against them if it has not, and to carryon a two line struggle to overcome the contradictions between the two organisations. The aim of this two line struggle must be to win ideological, political and organisational unity, on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and the interests of the working class.
UNITY IS THE AIM OF STRUGGLE; STRUGGLE IS THE MEANS TO UNITY!