A LONGER REPLY TO ‘A QUICK REPLY’
Communists publicly engage in disputes and struggles over views so readers can grasp political questions with greater clarity in order to resolve them more easily. We have written this reply as a modest contribution to the process of establishing and consolidating unity among Communists in the US. This process can only advance if we shine light on the differing principles at stake in the struggles that arise between circles.
However, with their latest piece on the MCG (‘A Quick Reply’) our friends at “Struggle Sessions” have dealt with a genuine dispute by shifting it from the sphere of principles and political problems to that of bickering, gossip, slander, and squabbles.
Their ‘Quick Reply’ is little more than a stream of childish irrelevancies and speculation about who met with whom, who ought to have written to whom, who really broke off communication with whom – followed by an embarrassing attempt at responding to questions from old letters that the MCG had reproduced solely in order to demonstrate that their original charges of ‘isolationism’ were false.
We must not allow the two-line struggle to degenerate into simple trifles, a degeneration that Lenin identified as the root of disorganization. Without organization, the working class is nothing, and our duty is therefore to struggle against the degeneration into quarrels and squabbles and offer a sum-up of our exchange with “Struggle Sessions” that can enlighten, rather than disorganize. As Lenin put it in ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ (1903), our task is to present “the principal result, obtained by adding up everything that belongs to the field of principles, and subtracting everything that belongs to the field of squabbles.”
What belongs to the field of principles in this exchange? At its heart, two trends and two analyses of the current situation.
1—On the one hand, the trend of petty-bourgeois vulgar revolutionism, which – as Vera Zasulich put it – tries to artificially induce the end of the revolutionary movement at its very beginning. The circles in this current fail to see that “no putsches of any sort can replace or artificially evoke” open mass political action (Lenin). They do not grasp that words are action too, applied to periods without open political mass action. At the same time, as petty-bourgeois idealists are generally prone to do, they mistake their own words for action, dreaming they are the proletarian center – with no justification whatsoever, beyond frequent proclamations that this is so.
From the impetuosity of this current follows its analysis of the present. In sum: “there is a revolutionary situation that can increasingly be potentiated by revolutionaries [for infantile “leftists” every situation is a revolutionary situation!],” and our “first task” [!] is to “go beyond the simple growth of legal unions” [go beyond! Do they lead many unions at present?] “and struggles which are existing only by virtue of police authorization” [the fetish of anarchists everywhere!] in order to “constantly temper it” [their circles?] “in the flames of revolutionary violence” [grandiose phrase-mongering meant to inflate — what?] “and deep links with the masses” [of course! But which masses? And how are these links forged?].
We need only recall Engels’ words to Paul Ernst in 1890 about the Jungen, to which Ernst belonged:
“The materialist method turns into its opposite if, in an historical study, it is used not as a guide but rather as a ready-made pattern in accordance with which one tailors the historical facts. […] I am referring to a clique of loud-mouthed men of letters and students, [more dangerous to the Party] particularly when they are incapable of seeing the simplest things with their own eyes and of impartially weighing up the relative importance of the available facts or the strength of the forces involved when assessing an economic or political situation, and hence seek to force on the Party tactics that are utterly insane.”
2—Against this tendency, that of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. The number of adherents of this trend in the US is low, and it exists without a foothold in the labor movement. For this reason, we assess the current stage as (1) a period of the emergence and consolidation of the theory and program of revolutionary Communism, against all forms of ideological wavering and narrow practicalism; (2) a period in which we strive to become a force in the labor movement by organizing and leading independent and democratic trade unions.
Today, the masses are not in a period of open mass political action. Still less is the question ‘who conquers whom’ on the immediate horizon. Our task is not yet to prepare a war, but to raise an army via propaganda, agitation, and organization. Theory is of particular importance in settling accounts with opportunist trends, particularly given the youthfulness of our movement. The need to raise the consciousness of the masses up to the level of socialist ideology determines our tasks in the present.
Maoists understand that of the two ideologies of our time, bourgeois and socialist ideology, the first is more extensive and deeply-rooted, and thus spreads more easily. Outside of revolutionary situations, the spontaneous movement – the movement as it exists in the absence of proletarian leadership – will naturally subordinate itself to bourgeois ideology and crowd out socialist ideology. S. Mazur characterizes the MCG’s recognition that this elementary principle is at work in the current situation as a type of ‘arrogance’ (“[the MCG] arrogantly suggest that the larger living movement has a low ideological and practical level”). This assessment displays confusion regarding both the current situation and the alphabet of Leninism – a muddle covered over by the kind of tawdry (and genuinely ‘arrogant’) spectacles we have come to expect from the crowded ranks of those on the US “left” who are overburdened with naïve delusions about their own importance.
Again, Engels on the Jungen:
“Theoretically, I found - and this applies to the rest of the ‘opposition’ press as a whole – a frenziedly distorted ‘Marxism,’ characterized on the one hand by a strong misunderstanding of the view that they claimed to represent, and on the other hand by gross unfamiliarity with the decisive historical facts on each occasion, thirdly, by that consciousness of their own immeasurable superiority which so distinguishes the German writer.”
As we remarked in our ‘Reply to S. Mazur,’ vulgar revolutionism goes hand in hand with indifference to theory. Certainly, one cannot raise the consciousness of the masses to the level of proletarian ideology if one is hostile to acquiring the basic principles of Marxism and learning how to apply them. For the vulgar revolutionists of “Struggle Sessions,” the MCG is involved in “pretentious roleplaying of themselves as Lenin” by turning to the lessons of the ICM in analyzing the present conditions and forms of struggle!
In this, the “Struggle Sessions” trend converges with the narrow practicalism that infects the petty-bourgeois “left” in the US, inscribing on its banner the perennial watchword of the Anglo-American tradition: “more results, with less ideology.” The self-proclaimed proletarian center proceeds as if the role of vanguard fighter might be fulfilled by a circle without a reserve of theoretical forces, i.e., a circle for whom ‘theory’ is little more than regurgitation of material that has not been properly digested.
As a demonstration of the theoretical poverty of “Struggle Sessions,” the squabbling and obfuscations of the ‘Quick Reply’ are quite instructive. Three examples will reinforce the point:
1. S. Mazur writes: “Struggle Sessions has never called for ‘competition’ but demanded two line struggle and ideological struggle for unity….” This understanding of ‘competition’ reveals a basic lack of familiarity with a well-known passage from one of the fundamental texts of the ICM.
To paraphrase Stalin: “Struggle Sessions” heard a bell, but from where it came they do not know.
What did we mean by ‘competition’? In our ‘Reply to S. Mazur,’ we responded to the charge of isolationism by recounting Lenin’s own response in ‘What Is To Be Done?’ to a similar charge leveled against Iskra by Rabocheye Dyelo, i.e., “of forgetting committees, of wanting or trying to drive them into the realm of shadows, etc.”
The accusation placed Lenin in a difficult position: (1) he could refute the charge by laying bare Iskra’s relations, thus failing in his revolutionary duty to conceal such relations; (2) he could refuse to lay bare the relations, thus failing in his duty to “unravel the confusion such people present to the reader.” In order to resolve this difficulty, Lenin decided to reveal “a particle of what was,” i.e., an element of the past sufficient to expose the falsity of the accusation, but which could be told without revealing present connections. Lenin writes:
“How can we respond to these accusations, when due to secrecy, we cannot tell the reader almost anything factual about our real relationship to the committees? The people who throw out a harsh and irritating accusation are ahead of us because of their impudence, because of their disdain for the duties of a revolutionary, who carefully conceals from the eyes of the world the relations and connections he has – that he is establishing or is trying to establish. It is clear that we refuse to compete in the field of ‘democracy’ with such people once and for all. As for the reader uninitiated in all Party affairs, the only way to fulfill his duty towards him is to tell not about what is and what is im Werden [in the making], but about a particle of what was and which is permissible to tell, since it is about the past.”
As should be clear to any reader of ‘What Is To Be Done?,’ ‘competition’ here has nothing to do with the two-line struggle, and everything to do with a refusal to give into provocations aimed at forcing Iskra to bare relations which a revolutionary is duty-bound to keep secret.
Like Rabocheye Dyelo, “Struggle Sessions” managed to ‘get ahead’ of the MCG with their accusation of isolationism. Following the example provided by Lenin, the MCG in reply released selective correspondence from the past – enough to prove the falsity of the accusation, but refusing to give in to S. Mazur’s attempts to get MCG to expose its connections (an effort that persists in the ‘Quick Reply’ in the form of speculations regarding ties the MCG may or may not have with other groups).
S. Mazur’s unfamiliarity with Lenin leads to absurd conclusions. Of course, a “particle of what was” means precisely a small part of the whole, from which one can hardly conclude that the “MCG admits it hasn’t tried to corresponded [sic] with any one [sic] in the movement besides ‘autonomous’ collectives two years ago over email” [!].
One of two things: either S. Mazur is unfamiliar with Lenin’s ‘What Is To Be Done?’ or they lack basic reasoning skills. Regardless, without ‘competing’ in the field of democracy with “Struggle Sessions,” we can assure S. Mazur that the MCG has been in contact with other Communists, both in person and “over email”!
2. S. Mazur tries to buttress their misreading of both Lenin and our reply with a new accusation, this time not about isolation but communication – one of apparently insufficient purity: the MCG met with an opportunist!! Here the childishness of the “Struggle Sessions” circle is brought out in the sharpest relief.
Anyone with any knowledge of the ICM, or any experience organizing, knows that in order to engage in politics, one must meet with all kinds of people, all the time, and for all kinds of reasons.
Our “Struggle Sessions” friends will perhaps be shocked to learn that the CPC formed an alliance with the big bureaucrat bourgeoisie of the KMT, the lackeys of US imperialism in China – an alliance that, it goes without saying, was forged through meetings! Lenin even invited the opportunists of the Mezhraiontsy to join the Bolsheviks – in person, at the May 23, 1917 conference of the opportunists! In general, we are left wondering how one could possibly build the United Front, or indeed, engage in any type of politics whatsoever, without meeting any opportunists in person? Perhaps by meeting them “over email”?
Of course, what is in question here is not an alliance of any kind, not even an effort at such an alliance, but a simple meeting, which makes the charge all the more ridiculous.
Again, without ‘competing’ in the field of democracy with our uncontaminated friends at “Struggle Sessions” by confirming or denying their rumor-mongering, the MCG is guilty as charged. MCG has indeed met with all manner of opportunists, and will continue to do so for the elementary reason that the MCG intends to engage in politics.
3. Rather than respond to the substantive points made in our ‘Reply to S. Mazur,’ “Struggle Sessions” spend the second half of their reply digging into the old letters that MCG had reproduced solely in order to demonstrate the falsity of the charge of isolationism. In this process, S. Mazur scatters a handful of gems, including the following:
“We hold that the 9th Congress was a subtle plot (Lin Biao) to end the GPCR, and as all Maoists do, we uphold the 10th Congress.”
Not only is this assessment not shared by “all Maoists” – or any that we know of – but it has not been the position of the most important figures in their own “principally Maoist” trend, beginning with the PCP itself. When this was pointed out to them on social media, they desperately tried to backtrack, going so far as to edit the article retroactively by adding in a new clause, preceded by an asterisk:
“2. We hold that the 9th Congress was a subtle plot (Lin Biao) to end the GPCR *but represented the progression of MZT, and as all Maoists do, we uphold the 10th Congress.”
They appended the following note to the asterisk:
“As an edit and addition, as they have distorted this, they originally asked in their email if ‘proletarian power was consolidated at the 9th Congress’ not if it represented Mao leading the development of MZT. Lin Biao in this Congress was making preparations for his fascist coup attempt. Instead of further responding to this, they screenshot this specific response and used it to claim that we were not knowledgeable about the question that they asked.”
Here S. Mazur acts like the bird that buries its head in the sand and imagines that it is thereby hiding the truth, when the reality of the maneuver is plain for all to see. This new and too-clever-by-half argument – devised to cover up their tracks – runs as follows: (1) the MCG had asked if “proletarian power was consolidated at the 9th Congress”; (2) proletarian power was not consolidated at the 9th Congress; (3) the 9th Congress can be summed up as “a subtle plot” to “end the GPCR”; and (4) the 9th Congress can equally be summed up as an ideological advance!
Had they firm principles, they would either defend their original position or concede they had made an error. But for S. Mazur & Co. the inter-organizational exchange is all about squabbling and ‘competition,’ and has nothing to do with the two-line struggle. In order to compete, they conjure new principles of Marxism at every turn, displaying truly remarkable inventiveness in the process: Communists must never meet with opportunists, a counter-revolutionary plot can represent the highest ideological advance … etc., etc.
But let’s assume they are serious about their revision, and ask: Is the ICM position that the Congress can be summed up as a “subtle plot” that made a great ideological advance? Or was the Congress “a step marked by the consolidation of the proletariat,” as the MCG put it in the letter that S. Mazur cites in their new footnote?
Let’s see what the PCP have to say on the matter. In “To be Marxist is to Adhere to Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-Tung Thought,” (1977) we read:
“... the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was developed to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat, prevent the restoration of capitalism and build socialism; and, whose condensation took place at the IX Congress of the CPC, which is a great milestone in the history of the CPC and the International Communist Movement.”
And the Brazilian Maoists?
“In this Congress, held in the middle of the stormiest ideological-political struggle of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), historical decisions of transcendental importance were adopted for the Chinese Revolution and for the World Proletarian Revolution.”
“The IX Congress fulfilled the role of systematizing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and was marked by the culmination of the triumph of the red line and Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-tung Thought over the revisionist and counterrevolutionary ‘black line’ of the zu zi pai (followers of the capitalist road).”
On this topic, as on others, S. Mazur & Co. show themselves to be entirely in the dark. Not only are they unaware of the basic assessment of the ICM, but they are not even familiar with the position of the “principally Maoist” trend with which they identify. We find ourselves face to face with our own Jungen, bearers of “a strong misunderstanding of the view that they claimed to represent” (Engels). It was of these self-assured types that Marx said: “I know only this, that I am not a Marxist.”
To be clear, the MCG upholds the summation of the 9th Congress by the proletarian line in the ICM, including that of the Maoists in the CPC. This summation is as follows:
The revisionist political report that Lin Biao and Chen Po-ta had prepared to present at the 9th National Congress had been rejected by the CC. The 9th Congress adopted the political report drafted under Mao’s guidance, reaffirmed the basic line and policies of the CPC, and exposed the bourgeois headquarters in the Party led by Liu. Following the Congress, and in particular during and after the Second Plenary Session of the Ninth CC (August-September 1970), Lin attacked the line established by the Congress.
In order to do this, Lin wielded the doctrines of Confucius and Mencius as a reactionary ideological weapon to advance his counterrevolutionary aims, at the same time offering a negative assessment of emperor Chin Shih Huang, representative of the ‘revolutionary-progressive’ feudal landlord class, and the corresponding ideology of Legalism.
Finally, we must address the accusations that the MCG operates from “behind a bolted door” (Mazur: “greedy scientists keeping their formulas secret”) and consists of “arrogant individualists who do not want to be led or to learn.”
This is the attitude that leads “Struggle Sessions” to style their preferred circles as ‘the’ movement (full stop) and even to proclaim that they are the ‘center,’ and should be recognized as such by others (see Points 4 and 6 in ‘A Quick Reply to MCG’). In a situation of many circles without a Party, how do we determine the proletarian center? The classic statement on this question is Lenin’s discussion in ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ (1904).
“[Revolutionary Social-Democracy] seeks to proceed from above, advocating for the expansion of the center's rights and powers in relation to the parts. In the age of dispersion and circles, this top, from which revolutionary Social-Democracy sought to emanate organizationally, was inevitably one of the most influential circles by virtue of its activity and its revolutionary consistency (in our case, the ‘Iskra’ organization).”
So, do the circles that “Struggle Sessions” supports have the ‘activity’ and ‘revolutionary consistency’ to claim that they constitute the proletarian center? A review of two recent events – based entirely on the documents of these circles themselves – will quickly disabuse readers of this notion. As is the case with ‘Marxist Center’ (and so many other self-proclaimed ‘centers’) we find an unbridgeable gap between self-perception and reality.
In January, the “news service” of these circles published a self-criticism for a juvenile brawl initiated by their adherents against elements of DSA in Kansas City. We read in Incendiary:
“We should not have sought to ideologically defend the action. […] the action against the Kansas City DSA branch is to be considered a negative example […] the action, as well as the injuries caused, were mistakes […] the comrades are fortunate that no major damage was done […] Sources confirm that the revolutionaries in Kansas City have entered into a general period of reorganization; beyond this, they have assured Incendiary that the people responsible for the action have been recalled and are no longer active in the movement in any capacity. […] Incendiary wishes to apologize to our readers and supporters for failing in due diligence. Instead of maintaining our own standards, the paper took to rushing to prepare a defense […]”
Shortly afterwards, in March – only a month before the initial polemic by “Struggle Sessions” demanding that the MCG ‘vigorously engage’ its circle – the same “news service” announced a split (see “Editorial: Open Letter to the Incendiary Editorial Board, its Readers, Writings, Contributors, and Distribution Networks”).
Among the criticisms: Incendiary editors “do not maintain quality control,” “take no organizational efforts to train qualified propagandists,” and “maintain a practice of erasing public criticism.” Articles “are often released late, with numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.” The organ at one point considered the government of Venezuela “the principal enemy to expose and combat” [!] in the situation in that country. Workers responded to an article regarding a Pittsburgh steel foundry with “dismissal” and “mocking,” and noted that the “story was factually inaccurate.” The list goes on.
This was followed by a public mea culpa by an Incendiary publisher (see “To My Comrades of the Former Incendiary Editorial Board, the Tribune of the People, Incendiary Support Committees and the Revolutionary Movement”).
Though “Struggle Sessions” attempts to put some distance between itself and the formations of the past (“it should be clear that our content and political line is no more similar to RGLA than it is to MCG”; “we must not have their individual lines confused for ours”), it turns out that the ideological weakness and political immaturity already identified by the MCG in 2017 are not so easy to overcome.
These events are unmistakeable signs that the circles that “Struggle Sessions” supports move perpetually from crisis to crisis, displaying the chronic instability of the hysterical petty bourgeoisie – the result of an inability both to elaborate a correct line of Party construction for the current step in the US and to correctly analyze the prerequisites for Party construction on the basis of a deep and detailed knowledge of the Russian and Chinese (and Peruvian) experiences.
The predictions by the MCG have stood up well in this light.
“Rather than possessing a deep knowledge of Marxist theory, conditioned on years of serious study of the classical texts and ongoing direct experience of protracted work successfully organizing the basic masses, of the type that animated the processes of party formation in Russia, China, and Peru, US Maoism at present is an ideologically weak and politically immature trend, one that often justifies this weakness and immaturity with a populist opposition to theory that has no historical precedent in the International Communist Movement. … The ideological problems [identitarianism, petty-bourgeois revolutionism, eclecticism] outlined above will in our estimation overwhelm any effort at leaping to national ‘Maoist unity’ at this moment, even solely around a publication. It will likely allow ideologically-degenerate elements and elements incapable of mass work to enter, resulting in the diffusion of poorly-conceived texts and perhaps repeating the errors of the NCP-LC.” (MCG, letter to RGLA, spring/early summer 2017)
“To briefly reply to your question on how we conceive of the process towards Communist unity: the means of hastening Party formation at this step, in our view, include gaining mastery of the classical texts of MLM through reading and discussion, successfully organizing the worker vanguard and the basic masses, and staking out positions in the two-line struggle of our time. These are prerequisites for the creation of higher forms of encounter between groups (such as a nationally-distributed newsletter and a multi-group conference). In their absence, one will end up wasting tremendous amounts of time in arbitrarily-constructed structures marked by great ideological and political unevenness, with elements who have little grasp of revolutionary Marxism, who are incapable of sustained study, who are incapable of mass work, and so on—who should be preparing themselves as Communists through more rudimentary means. This has been a bitter lesson from our own experience that we do not wish to repeat.” (MCG, letter to RGP, 12 February 2018)
As we mentioned at the start of this reply, our critical remarks are in the spirit of establishing and consolidating the unity of Communists in the US. Here we should recall the Iskra ‘Declaration’ of 1900:
“To create and strengthen the Party means to create and strengthen the unity of all Russian Social-Democrats, and – for the above reasons – such an association cannot be decreed, it cannot be introduced by a single decision of say, a meeting of representatives: it must be developed. First, it is necessary to work for a strong ideological unity, which will eliminate the discord and confusion that – let's be frank! – reigns among Russian social-democrats at present; it is necessary to fix this ideological unity by the Party program. […] Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation. Otherwise, our unity would only be a fiction, covering up the prevailing confusion and hindering its radical elimination.”
Like all questions in the ICM, the question of the Party must be approached in stages, always referred to a concrete analysis of the concrete situation. And the necessary preparatory step for the task of Party organization is to develop a common literature, sustained by principles and capable of uniting revolutionary Communists. It is of no use treating the question of the Party as an immediate organizational directive before we eliminate the “prevailing confusion” among self-identified revolutionary Communists through ideological struggle. Even more absurd is the notion that our “first task” is to “temper” the (non-existent) Party in the “flames of revolutionary violence.”
It seems to us that “Struggle Sessions” wants to carry out every step as the first step, and hopes to accomplish this through a bold advance in the imagination. For them, it is as if obstacles exist only in the mind – as if US society is a blank paper upon which we can draw a direct revolutionary path through sheer force of will. They speak like the manifesto of the Thirty Three: "We are Communists, because we want to reach our goal without stopping at any intermediate stations, at compromises, which merely defer the victory and prolong the slavery." To this we respond, with Engels: “What simple-hearted childishness, which quotes impatience as a convincing argument in support of a theory!”
Transferred to the real world from the imagination, the ‘bold advance’ of our simple-hearted friends has only meant instability, theatrics, and squabbles that, outside their circles, have yielded little more than well-earned derision. Of course, we share the enthusiasm of “Struggle Sessions” for proletarian revolution. But the road to revolution is not a straight path, and if we realize our enthusiasm as impatience we will make progress only in the ethereal world of daydreams.
Communists must instead direct our revolutionary zeal according to the formula of Wilhelm Liebknecht – study, propagandize, organize – as we orient our tasks at each step, i.e.,
—study: we must produce genuine theoretical work in conformity with the actual process of social reality;
—propagandize: we must raise the ideological level of the working class by disseminating theoretical results;
—organize: we must work to organize the labor movement and transform it into a political struggle of the whole class.
Theoretical clarity is an absolute precondition for producing an integral picture of the reality of US society so that, on that basis, we can determine and order the practical tasks of propaganda, agitation, and organization appropriate to the moment. Conversely, the theoretical confusion of “Struggle Sessions” and the circles it supports is directly reflected in their failure to reckon concretely with the practical conditions of the mass movement and put forward specific tasks that can really advance the revolutionary process, step by step.
Of course, those who take themselves to be the ‘Maoist Center’ at least have the virtue of taking themselves seriously – this on a “left” populated by individuals and groups that constantly spew forth an ironic discourse on Communist themes. But just like our jesters, our advocates of cheap spectacles and trivial squabbles lack revolutionary optimism. As Lenin notes, those for whom history is a tabula rasa on which we can inscribe whatever we please – i.e., those for whom summing up the present in light of the concrete lessons of the past is “pretentious roleplaying” and for whom fanning the flames of “revolutionary violence” is the “first step” – are bound to take up the tactics of despair and call the result ‘politics.’
S. Mazur & Co. are suspended in mid-air, but they imagine they are marching at the head of the working class and the masses, boldly advancing along a direct path to social revolution. Instead of continuing to shout loudly and applaud themselves so as to obscure the truth with noise, we invite them to take up their own call for ideological struggle with the care and attention it demands.