First Published: Revolution No.2, October 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
In the last eighteen months the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) has been waging a protracted struggle against five major bourgeois and petty bourgeois errors within its ranks. The struggle against these errors – liberalism, intellectualism, small group mentality, ultra-democracy and empiricism – has been described in the first issue of ’Revolution.’
The struggle has swept away small mountains of opportunist rubbish, has united the CFB (ML), strengthened its working class stand, and greatly increased its fighting capacity. The struggle has prepared the ground for the complete abolition of federalism and the adoption of a fully democratic-centralist constitution. It has opened up excellent prospects for winning unity in the Marxist-Leninist movement through active ideological struggle, bold criticism and self-criticism.
This does not mean that the CFB (ML) should now stop the internal struggle against anti-working class errors. On the contrary it must carry the struggle through to the end.
Lenin wrote in ’Left-Wing Communism’:
“Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the lessons for it, analyzing the conditions that led to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it – that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class and then the masses.” (Peking edition p51)
Therefore we must pay attention to “ascertaining the reasons” for the errors of the CFB (ML). What were the reasons for these errors? There were several.
One reason was the liberalism of the CFB (ML). Because liberalism rejects ideological struggle and bold criticism and self-criticism, it prevents a revolutionary organisation getting rid of other errors as well.
Another reason was that “one-error conceals another”: by over-reacting to the prevailing-left opportunist errors of the early days of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain, the CFB(ML) fell headlong into right opportunist errors, such as liberalism and empiricism. This shows yet again that we must build the revolutionary Communist Party by struggling relentlessly against both right and left opportunism.
An important source of error within the CFB (ML) was the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia has been described as “a large section of people mainly engaged in mental work, in the organization and management of work and production of the affairs of state and society, who engage in creative and not manual work or merely carrying-out instructions”. Comrades from both academic and technical sections of the intelligentsia gave rise to opportunist errors because the CFB (ML) gave no leadership to help them remould their class stand to that of the vanguard of the working class.
In thoroughly “ascertaining the reasons” for an error it is necessary to go back to past history to see where the seeds of the error were first planted.
The CFB (ML) must go back to its founding policy statements and examine them strictly from the stand of the working class.
The CFB(ML) was founded in September 1969.out of a loose organization of small groups, known as the Joint Committee of Communists (J.C.C.) which had been set up in April 1967. The J.C.C. was an extremely-ultra-democratic body. All the members of all the groups were entitled to attend all the meetings. There was a rotating chairman and the only permanent post was that of minute’s secretary. The J.C.C. produced two policy statements. The first, ’Statement on the Question-of Party Building’ was a short statement of five main points, adopted in April 1968. The second, called ’Origins and Perspectives of the Marxist-Leninist Movement in Britain’ was published in the summer of 1969, just before the founding-of the CFB (ML). Both statements were taken as founding statements by the CFB (ML) and acceptance of ’Origins and Perspectives’ was written into the constitution as a condition of membership of the CFB (ML).
Both statements have now been completely withdrawn by the National Committee of the CFB (ML).
The short five-point ’Statement on Party building’ made some correct points. The most important was in the first paragraph which stated that ”the formation of a Marxist-Leninist Party is the top priority for all British Marxist-Leninists today”. However in view of the errors that developed within the CFB (ML) it is necessary to concentrate on the shortcomings of this Statement and be strict in dissecting its errors.
The ’Statement’ ignored the leading role of the working-class. That was its most serious error. It did not even mention the working class. We would be very foolish to regard this as a mere blunder. It has a deep ideological significance. As Mao Tse-tung says:
”In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class” and every kind of thinking ’ without exception’ is stamped with the brand of a class”. (Quotations, p8)
This blunder was stamped with the brand of the intelligentsia. Caught as a middle stratum between the antagonistic classes of the bourgeoisie and the working class, the intelligentsia dreams of a world without class conflict, a world after its own image, where everyone behaves like “well-educated, humane and intelligent” members of the intelligentsia. When writing about building the Marxist-Leninist Party, it thinks of it as a party of the intelligentsia. From the point of view of the intelligentsia there is no need to mention the working class in a short statement on party-building. Leaving out any reference to the working class is only a blunder because it gives the game away as to which class interest is really represented by the ’Statement on Party Building’.
By contrast the Communist Party of Australia-(Marxist-Leninist) published an article in ’The Australian Communist’, number 54, which pointed out sharply:
“The Communist Party is the party of the working class. It must be organized deep in the heart of the working class. The working class has the leading role in the struggle for socialism... One of the weapons of the bourgeoisie is to attack the whole idea of the leading role of the working class.”
The questioning of the leading role of the working class takes many forms some open, some crude, some secret, some subtle. The ruling class promotes attacks upon the leading role of the working class because it understands or senses that it is precisely the working class that is the grave digger of capitalism. As early as 1848 in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels said:
“Of all that classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class”.
Sometimes it is said in the revolutionary movement that these truths are self-evident and do not need repetition. We prefer to repeat them. But even more important is to act upon them.
Within the revolutionary ranks systematic education and work on the leading role of the working class is vital. It is by no means a question just of recording the fact and then going on with one’s activities. It involves the whole question of outlook, of direction, of what has been called orientation.”
Like the Communist Party of Australia (M-L) we too must repeat again and again the great truth that the Communist Party is the party of the working class, and we must act on it. The intellectualism of the ’Statement on Party Building’ is clear and gives us a good lesson by negative example.
The ’Statement’ also surrenders to and compromises with small group mentality. It says, “we hold that the main character off the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain today is the existence of individual autonomous groups.” It does not go on to criticise small group mentality at all, but on the contrary praises the groups for ”making serious attempts to integrate Marxist-Leninist theory with practice in the concrete working conditions of their own locality and industry”. The ’Statement’ planned to set up an “organization of groups” to prepare the conditions for a party. It does not grasp that the Party will be built only, in the, course of openly declared struggle against small group mentality itself.
The ’Statement’ appears to be in favour of ideological struggle but in fact it supports liberalism. It-says,-that the groups ”must increasingly co-ordinate their efforts in joint work and ideological struggle”. Here it is significant that “co-ordinate their efforts in joint work ” comes before “ideological struggle”. This represents the liberal theory of peacefully evolving towards a unified party instead of winning unity through the struggle of correct ideas against incorrect ideas.
The liberal theory of ’evolving’ unity out-of the small groups is the essence of the federal road to party-building. The federal road compromises with small group mentality. This road is a cul-de-sac for the ”working class.
Point 3 of the ’Statement’ lays down five “conditions for the formation of a party”. The ultra-democracy of the J.C.C. can be seen in the fact that none of these state that building a core of Marxist-Leninist leadership is an essential part of Party building. Some comrades used this list of conditions as a list of pre-conditions Instead of seeing them as targets to be aimed at, they used~ them as a convenient check list proving year after year that we had not got a Party yet and so they need not be bound by Party discipline. The ’Statement’ did-not take a firm stand against ultra-democracy.
The empiricist errors that were so widespread in the CFB (ML) can be seen in certain phrases in the ’Statement.’ That tends to emphasize the fragmentary experience of local work rather than the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism. This is especially dangerous for an immature movement. Such a movement must pay great attention to grasping the theoretical lessons of the working class struggle in all countries. Otherwise it condemns the working class to blind activity and ensures that its struggle will be crippled and even destroyed by bourgeois ideas.
Point 3b of the J.C.C. Statement on Party Building called for ”a full analysis of the national and international political situation including the historical experience of the British anti-revisionist movement to date.” ’Origins and Perspective of the Marxist-Leninist Movement in Britain’ was published in the summer of 1969 in order partly to fulfil this task.
For the working class, ’Origins and Perspectives’ is not an improvement on the ’Statement on Party Building’ but a step back. Whereas the ’Statement’ is concise and relatively clear ’Origins and Perspectives’ is longer and woolly. As a guide to action it is worse. This reflects the error of intellectualism as Mao Tse-tung points out, intellectuals often tend to be “impractical in their thinking” (Quotations, p292).’Origins and Perspectives’ set an impractically long list of tasks for Party building and did not establish priorities. This too is an example of intellectualism.
’Origins and Perspectives’ is a step back from the ’Statement’ in that it does not state so clearly and emphasize that “the formation of a Marxist-Leninist Party is the top priority for all. British Marxist-Leninists today” (’Statement’, point 11.) ’Origins and Perspectives’ has a pompous and vague intellectualist sentence, “At an organizational level we will of course be motivated and informed by the need for a vanguard party”. This is the sort of intellectualist sentence which at first sight sounds very impressive but in fact is difficult to pin down. The little phrase “of course” sounds as if there can De no question about the need for a vanguard party. But the reverse is the case. “Of course” in this sentence shows how much the J.C.C. and the CFB (ML) under-estimated the reactionary strength of small group mentality. They did not understand that the Party can be built only if there is a direct, conscious and prolonged campaign against small group mentality.
Like the ’Statement’, ’Origins and Perspectives’ denies the leading role of the working class. ’Origins and Perspectives’ is a much longer document than the ’Statement’ and it does refer to the working class on a few occasions. However the introduction ignores the working class all together and whenever the class appears in ’Origins and Perspectives’ it is in a passive role. The working class is allowed to appear on stage only as something to be analysed or studied, something to which a duty is owed, something with which a “new type of relationship” must be established, something to which newspapers must be sold or something which is in great ’danger’. ’Origins and Perspectives’ nowhere says simply and bluntly that the working class is the only really revolutionary class, that it will liberate itself and all mankind, and that the Marxist-Leninist Party must be a Party of the working class! With the brand of which class is this kind of thinking stamped? ’Origins and Perspectives’ is stamped with the brand of the intelligentsia.
Instead of taking the stand of the working class, ’Origins and Perspective’ views the Marxist-Leninist movement from the point of view of individuals striving Ito attain political clarity’. It is a type of personal biography in which all the details of the twists and turns taken by the subjects in their wanderings after ’political clarity’ are solemnly described. For example the foundation of the CFB (ML) is discussed in this way:
“For many months now the J.C.C. has been actively seeking the next step forward. This has been generally seen as the formation of a body that could introduce a new type of relationship between the component groups and between the groups as a whole and the working class. The formulation has been in terms of a federation of British Communists.”
The subjectivism, vagueness and empiricism of this statement are very clear. The individuals in the J.C.C. vaguely felt in the course of their wanderings through the marsh, that a federation was the next step; so the J.C.C. was made into a federation! This does not view the problem from the stand of the working class at all.
The early part of ’Origins and Perspectives’ lays out the major theoretical lines of demarcation with revisionism fairly clearly (over the dictatorship of the proletariat, peaceful co-existence, etc.). But this too is done in an intellectualist way. The theory is handled as abstract theory, without relating ’it to class struggle. ’Origins and Perspectives’ does not grasp that revisionism is the ideology of the bourgeoisie dressed up as Marxism, and that Marxism-Leninism is the ideology of the working class. ’Origins and Perspectives’ does not grasp that ideological struggle is class struggle. Instead it sees revisionists merely as people who cheat at Marxist theory and fiddle the answers. Of course revisionists do cheat, but our attitude must not be a moralistic one or one of intellectual contempt. With icy coldness and burning indignation we must denounce revisionists as agents of the bourgeoisie within the working class movement.
’Origins and Perspectives’ liberally compromises with small group mentality. This is the essence of federalism. ’Origins and Perspectives’ wears two faces on this question: this is why it was able to confuse people for so long. At times it appears to be aimed mainly at building the new Communist Party, but in fact it defends the small groups. For example the introduction defends small group mentality by emphasizing “the necessity of recognizing the autonomous nature of the groups which exist.”
’Origins and Perspectives’ says that the new ”federation must see as its prime task the development of conditions for the formation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist Party.” But immediately afterwards it stresses, “In creating such a federation and developing from it a democratic centralist structure, we must always bear in mind the concrete problems facing the constituent groups. All the groups have different individual histories, class compositions, organisational structures and fields of work. These must be clearly considered in building unified organisations.” In other words, ’of course we want to build the Party, but we don’t want to do anything that will offend the small groups’! A federation was the opportunist compromise solution.
’Origins and Perspectives’ faced two ways on this question. Another passage says: “The federation for which we are working is only a step towards a Party. That must be a basic premise for its existence, if it is not to develop into an impediment to further progress. Nevertheless, “it immediately hastens to say, “premature time scales should not be constructed. Many groups who are not yet members of the J.C.C. must not be dismissedů”
Because of this compromise of federalism the CFB(ML) always had in its ranks from the beginning comrades who were primarily concerned with building the Party and comrades who were primarily concerned with defending small group mentality. It was partly because federalism opportunistically blurred the issue that it took so many years: for clear lines of demarcation to be established and the issue resolved through struggle.
To be clear on what we are saying: it is a good thing when small groups overcome their small group mentality enough to engage in struggle with each other. From this point of view that is as a forum the J.C.C. was for a period of time a progressive step. What was wrong was to set up a federation which fatally compromised with small group mentality and failed to struggle to implement democratic centralism from the beginning.
’Origins and Perspectives’ correctly understood that unity cannot be declared into existence solely by a vote to set up a unified organization. . It correctly understood that real unity is first and foremost unity of correct ideas. But it did not understand how to win unity. This was because of deep errors of liberalism. Active ideological struggle is the weapon for winning and ensuring unity. But liberalism rejects ideological struggle and the CFB (ML) was riddled with liberalism.
’Origins and Perspectives’ talked about ’ideological work for unity’ instead of “ideological struggle”. It saw this ’ideological work’ centring on coordinating education and investigation. Ideological education and investigation are important parts of Party building but here ’Origins and Perspectives’ was dodging the issue of how to overcome contradictions between the groups. It rejected struggle. Yet active ideological struggle, criticism and self-criticism is the only way of overcoming contradictions in the revolutionary ranks. As Mao Tse-tung says, there is no other way. Seven years experience of the CFB (ML) has also shown there is no other way.
Falling into liberalism ’Origins and Perspectives’ in essence believed in the metaphysical view that unity would evolve through ’joint work and study’. This is completely opposed to the dialectical stand that unity is won through struggle.
Ultra-democracy was in practice a fundamental principle of the CFB (ML) from the beginning. ’Origins and Perspectives’ never criticises or even mentions ultra-democracy even though this error was one of the worst errors of the J.C.C. The document makes a few statements about democratic centralism, cut they did nothing to help the CFB (ML) establish democratic centralism. They merely teach us all the more sharply to be vigilant and to distinguish between genuine and sham Marxism.
’Origins and Perspectives’ says, “The question of democratic centralism must be studied and the lessons correctly applied within the federation”. At first sight a statement implying that democratic centralism is of great importance; but we must read it a bit more carefully. In fact it opens the door to all and every ultra-democratic questioning of democratic-centralism. How indeed can the ’lessons’ of democratic centralism be correctly applied within a federation in any case? A federation directly violates democratic centralism.
’Origins and Perspectives’ goes on to say, “This is a key point and an area of sensitivity and will need to be dealt with thoroughly and responsibly.” Grave words, but what do they really mean? Certainly we must guard against bureaucratic centralism while fighting ultra-democracy. But who exactly suffers from ’areas of sensitivity’ about democratic centralism? It is not the working class. As Lenin said:
“In its struggle for power, the proletariat has no other weapon but organization. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by forced labour for capital, constantly thrust back to the ’lower depths’ of utter destitution, savagery and degeneration, the proletariat can become and inevitably will become an invincible force only when its ideological unification By the principles of Marxism is consolidated by the material unity of an organization which will weld millions of toilers into an army of the working class.“
So who precisely suffers from ’areas of sensitivity’? Lenin solves the problem again: it is the intelligentsia. In criticizing the ultra-democratic line of the Mensheviks, Lenin pointed out:
“Martov’s formulation ostensibly defends the interests of the broad strata of the proletariat, but in fact, it serves the interests of the bourgeois intellectuals, who fight shy of proletarian discipline and organization. No one will undertake to deny that it is precisely its individualism and incapacity for discipline and organization that in general distinguish the intelligentsia as a separate stratum of modern capitalist society.” (This and the previous passage are quoted in ’History of the C.P.S.U.(B)’ 1939 edition, Chapter 2, section 4)
So the mystery is explained. Once again we have heard the soft but persistent cooing of intellectualism. Once again this teaches us sharply that the working class will always be the victims of deception in politics until we have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases.
’Origins and Perspectives’ attacks Michael McCreery, who in 1963 first raised the banner outside the ’Communist Party of Great Britain’ to rally all anti-revisionists to rebuild the party of the proletariat. Although McCreery did not lay an ideological basis for the new organization strong enough to continue after his premature death, his stand was primarily correct and must be strongly uphold. ’Origins and Perspectives’ reveals its ultra-democracy when it complains that McCreery made a mistake of “overemphasizing and indeed distorting the role and possibilities of leadership”. It also sneers at the idea of having a central committee by putting inverted commas around these words. In essence ’Origins and Perspectives’ attacked the very idea of proclaiming a centre and building a leading core around which the best Marxist-Leninists and the best elements from the working class can be rallied. Instead it believed that the Party must be rebuilt on the basis of small local circles who received no central national leadership but who ultra-democratically exchanged experiences.
Empiricism was also an important aspect of the ’Origins and Perspectives’ programme for Party building. Empiricism mistakes fragmentary experience for universal truth. ’Origins and Perspectives’ attached great importance to the fact that the local circles which made up the CFB(ML) were doing local work. Certainly it was necessary to correct the left opportunism of a number of other Marxist-Leninist organizations who had no roots in the masses. However ’local work’ which is not guided by Marxist-Leninist theory and policies is inevitably empiricist and surrenders to bourgeois ideology.
’Origins and Perspectives’ says the right approach was “to combine theory with practice and gain experience in political work in the localities.” Certainly we must integrate theory with practice, but to talk about combining theory with practice in this way blurs the question of which is primary. This is a crucial question at a time when years of revisionism have robbed the working class of Marxist-Leninist theory. At such a time as this, when without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement, theory is primary over practice. ’Origins and Perspectives never points this out and implies on the contrary the empiricist error, which was widespread in the Federation, of seeing blind local practice as primary.
Overall ’Origins and Perspectives’ underestimates the importance for a young Marxist-Leninist movement of modestly grasping the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism. It even arrogantly announces as an urgent task the need to build upon Lenin’s analysis of the state. For many years the CFB(ML) held up ’Origins and Perspectives’ as the best statement in Britain on rebuilding the revolutionary Communist Party. But close study shows that both ’Origins and Perspectives’ and the J.C.C. ’Statement on Party Building’ contained serious examples of all the five main errors against which the CFB(ML) has recently been waging a protracted struggle; liberalism, intellectualism, small group mentality, ultra-democracy and empiricism. Close study of the documents shows vividly that these errors are not mere accidental mistakes but are ideas sharply hostile to the real interests of the working class, ideas which represent the stand of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie. They almost completely prevented a relatively large number of hard working comrades from contributing usefully to the task of building the Party of the working class for six years.
This proves that in building the revolutionary Communist Party it is necessary continually to sum up experience and to be strict in self-criticism. When errors occur we must thoroughly examine them, ascertain their causes and dig up their roots.
’Origins and Perspectives’ was an opportunist attempt to take a number of small groups a step forward in building the revolutionary Communist Party. We must learn from its failures. In particular we must grasp these points:
1. The federal road is an opportunist road.
2. There must be direct, open and firm struggle against ’small group’ mentality.
3. Marxist-Leninist organizations must practice democratic centralism and must combat ultra-democracy.
4. Unity must and can be won between different groups by active ideo1ogical struggle and criticism and self-criticism. Combating liberalism, which rejects active ideological struggle, is a task of great importance in party building.
Since taking up active, ideological struggle and critic and self-criticism, the comrades within the CFB (ML) have greatly increased their fighting capacity as soldiers of the army of the proletariat. The CFB (ML) publishes this criticism of its founding statements to further temper its own ranks in the struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois errors, and also to help comrades in other Marxist-Leninist organisations guard and fight against the same errors.
The working class is the class of the future. The bourgeoisie is the class of the past. The bourgeoisie cannot bear the truth, and its ranks are shattered and thrown into confusion by self-criticism. By contrast the working class can only gain in strength through the struggle to grasp the truths about the world and to overcome its weaknesses by means of self-criticism. As Mao Tse-tung points out in ’Serve the People’, “If in the interests of the people we persist in doing what is right and correct what is wrong, our ranks will surely thrive.”