This critique of the document “On Proletarian Democracy” was written in the fall of 1991, as part of a book, Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism! As final preparations were being made for the publication of this book, the news was received that, according to a statement by the Central Reorganisation Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the decision had been made to “dissolve the all-India structure” of the CRC. As is also clear from this statement, this decision was taken on the initiative of K. Venu, the (former) Secretary of the CRC, who was also the principal author of “On Proletarian Democracy”.
This move to liquidate the CRC organizationally is clearly a further leap, backwards, and also is an extension of the political and ideological line that runs through “On Proletarian Democracy”. The attempt at liquidation of the CRC as an all-India organization and the rationalization given for this underline the importance of deepening the all-around criticism of the opportunist line and outlook that has increasingly characterized the leadership of the CRC, with K. Venu at the head.
In light of all this, it was decided, in consultation with the Committee of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, in which the CRC has been a participating party, to submit this article to A World To Win, to be published there along with the CRC document, “On Proletarian Democracy”. As stated in this critique, it was the hope in writing it that it would make a contribution to a struggle, on the part of comrades inside and outside the CRC, through which the CRC would reverse its course, repudiate “On Proletarian Democracy”, reclaim the great revolutionary heritage of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement in India, and both reaffirm and contribute to further developing the revolutionary principles on which the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was founded. Although the CRC leadership has, unfortunately, taken the opposite course and taken an even further leap into opportunism, this has brought forth open struggle from within the ranks of the CRC.
For many reasons, not the least of which is the immense importance of the revolution in India to the world proletarian revolution, it has been very encouraging to hear that struggle has broken out against the opportunist line that had brought the CRC to such a crisis. No doubt the struggle will be complex. This makes even clearer the decisive importance of carrying out deep-going and all-around criticism of the revisionist political line that is expressed in a concentrated way in “On Proletarian Democracy” and of searching out more fully the links between this line, with its underlying outlook and methodology, and the other lines put forward by its authors.
Once again, it is the hope that this critique of “On Proletarian Democracy” can make a contribution to that process. And, at the same time, as also stated at the beginning of this critique, it is aimed as well at contributing to the process whereby “the RIM overall will be further strengthened in its resolve to unite on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and to firmly uphold the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat while summing up deeply the errors of the international communist movement, as well as its great achievements, and advancing on that basis”.
This heading deliberately recalls the title of the book I wrote on the question of democracy—its social and class content, its historical role and relation to the proletarian revolution and the goal of communism. The momentous events in the world in the few short years since that book was written—in particular the radical changes in the nature of bourgeois rule in the Soviet Union and what has been its bloc, along with the events focused in Tiananmen Square in China—have indeed made what was said in that book, on the possibility and necessity of doing much better than that, more relevant and important than ever. They have underscored the significance of the conclusion that, “Where it is possible to speak of democracy, of whatever kind, that is a sign that class distinctions and, in one form or another, social antagonisms—and with them dictatorship—are still to be found, indeed still characterize society. And when this is no longer the case, it will no longer be possible, or necessary, to speak of democracy.” (Bob Avakian, Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?, Chicago: Banner Press, 1986, p. 261)
As we know, these earth-shaking events in countries commonly conceived of as “communist” have had major repercussions not only among the masses of people broadly but also among the conscious revolutionary forces, including within the ranks of those who have considered themselves revolutionary communists and have based themselves on the revolutionary line of Mao Tsetung and the whole history of the international communist movement identified with Marx, Lenin, and Mao. One of the sharpest examples of this is a document recently published by the Central Reorganisation Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (hereafter referred to as CRC), an organization that has been affiliated with the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). This CRC document, “On Proletarian Democracy”, represents a fundamental repudiation not only of the Declaration of the RIM itself but of the fundamental principles on which that document is founded and even more a repudiation of the entire experience of the international proletariat and the international communist movement in exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat and carrying out the socialist transformation of society.1
To be more precise, this document upholds only the Paris Commune of 1871 as a legitimate exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat: it sets the very brief and limited experience of the Commune against the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in socialist society beginning with the October 1917 Soviet Revolution. 2
The following is the basic argument of this CRC document: Although before the October Revolution Lenin upheld the Paris Commune as the model for the dictatorship of the proletariat (as can be seen in The State and Revolution, written by Lenin only a few months before the October Revolution), nevertheless, soon after the Bolshevik revolution seized power, Lenin put into practice a line of imposing a dictatorship of the communist party in place of the exercise of political power by the masses of working people themselves. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Stalin carried out and carried to further extreme this dictatorship of the party and even Mao and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution did not break with this political system of party dictatorship. Thus, this whole historical experience, with its “monopoly of political power” by the party, must be repudiated and future socialist revolutions must revert back to a strict application of the Paris Commune model.
It is not hard to recognize that the line of this CRC document shares much in common with long-standing attacks on Leninism and with present-day assaults on communism in general.
For these reasons it is necessary to reply, publicly and in clear and forceful terms, to this document. There is no way to avoid it—this document constitutes a complete degeneration into rather classical social-democratic opposition to communism and the proletarian revolution. That may sound extreme, but it is no more extreme than the open assertion in this document that the entire experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat, beginning with the Soviet Union, and the basic orientation guiding this experience—not only in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Lenin as well as Stalin but also of China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung—that all this is fundamentally flawed and must be rejected and utilized as teaching material by negative example.
It is especially painful to see such a development because the CRC had set itself the task of defending and further developing a very positive and important revolutionary history—identified with the most advanced revolutionary experience and leadership within the international communist movement (from Marx, through Lenin, to Mao) and also with the whole experience of the armed struggle of peasant masses led by communist revolutionaries in the late 1960s-early 1970s in India (this was marked by the outbreak of this struggle in the village of Naxalbari in India’s state of West Bengal in the spring of 1967, which has been known as the “spring thunder”). This “spring thunder” and the revolutionary road associated with it was hailed at the time as a major development by the revolutionary leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and it remains true that, whatever mistakes and shortcomings may have been involved, this was a tremendously powerful and significant revolutionary development not only in that part of the world but for the world as a whole.
For these reasons the approach that must be taken in answering this document is what Mao described as “cure the sickness to save the patient”. But, as part of this, Mao insisted that sometimes it is necessary to administer a shock to someone in order to make them realize the seriousness of the “sickness” and to help them seek a cure. The CRC document is labeled a “draft”: hopefully, as a result of sharp struggle, on the part of comrades inside and outside the CRC, against the line contained in this draft, it will be thoroughly repudiated and the comrades of the CRC will once again retake the revolutionary road, and the RIM overall will be further strengthened in its resolve to unite on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and to firmly uphold the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat while summing up deeply the errors of the international communist movement, as well as its great achievements, and advancing on that basis. It is in that spirit, and with that goal in mind, that this critique of the CRC document is made.
To begin, and to give an overview, the following are some general conclusions that must be drawn from a critical reading of this document:
1. There is a stunning lack of materialism in this document. There is an absence of understanding of the fundamental contradictions, particularly in the economic base but also between the economic base and the superstructure, that mark socialist society as a transition. These are questions that Mao and his revolutionary headquarters identified as decisive for the struggle to not only uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat but to carry forward the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and combat revisionism and the rise to power of the bourgeoisie. But, in this CRC document, all this is rejected as off the mark, or not dealing with the essential questions!
More specifically, there is a lack of a sense of the existence of different classes (as well as advanced, intermediate, and backward) among the broad category of “the people” in socialist society. Or, more accurately, there is a refusal to recognize the crucial role of Marxist class analysis—such analysis is rejected in the name of opposing “class reductionism”!
Along with this, there is no serious attention paid—and apparently no real importance attached—to the very difficult problems that have confronted the socialist states as a consequence of their being in a position of being “encircled” by imperialism—existing in a world still dominated overall by imperialism. To attempt to discuss the questions of democracy and dictatorship apart from a serious examination of this problem betrays a lack of seriousness—and more specifically it betrays the classical bias and “blindspot” of social-democratic types who, with a typical bourgeois idealist outlook, purport to treat the question of democracy in some “pure” and “classless” way, in abstraction from its actual content and from the actual historical and social context.
2. The arguments made in this CRC document on the role of the party—or, as they would have it, the lack of an institutionalized vanguard role for the party in socialist society—lead toward a line of “peaceful transition”. The very logic of these arguments leads toward the conclusion that violent overthrow is itself “coercive” and “elitist” toward the masses (or at least toward sections of them who do not take part in this armed struggle) and is therefore fundamentally wrong.
This document does not draw this conclusion—in fact it says that the violent overthrow of bourgeois rule is necessary—but that is only because this document does not pursue its own logic to its “logical conclusion”. In this sense, this document lags behind those social-democrats, anarchist-pacifists, et al., who have historically made such arguments in insisting that waging war, even a revolutionary war, itself fosters elitism and concentrates power in the hands of an apparatus—the party, at the core of the revolutionary armed force—that leads the revolutionary war and already, in so doing, forms the core of the new regime of power. Quite often this is linked by such people with a condemnation of Lenin’s basic orientation—particularly as concentrated in What Is To Be Done?—concerning the role of vanguard leadership in relation to the masses. It is here, such people often claim, that the origins of the “dictatorship of the party” lie. The CRC document picks up this “dictatorship of the party” distortion, but it does not include the “discovery” of its “origins” in What Is To Be Done? (here, again, this document is “lagging”).
This cry of “the dictatorship of the party” is inescapably linked with “they should not have taken to arms”—the refrain raised by counterrevolutionaries in condemnation of the Paris Commune as well as the Russian Revolution, as Lenin pointed out, and the common refrain of such people in opposition to all genuine revolutions, especially proletarian revolutions. Here it is important to recognize that all revolutionary armed struggles that have led to the seizure of power by the proletariat have so far started—and in the future are likely to start as well—with a minority. This is true whether these armed struggles have been protracted people’s war in a Third World country or urban insurrection in an imperialist country. Such armed struggles are begun before the majority of the people (even in the immediate areas where the armed struggle is started) have been won to support for them. And such armed struggles, however much they may fundamentally rely on the masses, do after all exert an element of coercion, not only against the enemy but also, in a qualitatively different but real way, even on the masses affected by them—in a real sense they force the masses, in particular those not already involved, to take a stand in relation to them.
This was certainly the case with the Bolshevik-led October Revolution in 1917. It is quite probably a fact that not even a majority of the workers in the Soviets, considering the country as whole, were yet won to the idea of launching the armed insurrection at that time. Certainly this was true of the peasants throughout the countryside. And even in the main cities where the armed insurrections were first carried out (in particular Petrograd and Moscow), the majority of the non-industrial workers among the people were certainly not consciously supporting the Bolshevik banner when the Bolsheviks launched these armed insurrections, yet these non-industrial workers must be considered among the broad category of “the people”. So, according to the logic of this CRC document, there is nothing left to conclude but “they should not have taken to arms”. You cannot “logically” argue that the vanguard must not impose its will on the people when it is in power but it may do so in coming to power in the first place. The contradictions involved here can be resolved through the application of materialist dialectics, but this cannot be done by applying the (bourgeois) logic that has been adopted in this CRC document.
Of course, it is true—and a profound truth—that the actions of the Bolsheviks in launching and leading these armed insurrections were in the interests of the majority of the masses—not only in some general and long-term historical sense but in terms of corresponding to the immediately and urgently felt needs of the masses and to their “political will”. But that is just the point: criteria like this are precisely what the CRC document is now rejecting and replacing with the logic and demands of formal (bourgeois) democracy, that is, the insistence on the forms of democracy without regard to the social and class content, or the raising of the form above the content.
3. The same logic will also lead to the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat itself as an “undemocratic” system of government. The dictatorship of the proletariat also involves an element of coercion, by the state, in relation not only to antagonistic classes but also to individuals among the (broad category of) the people. Basic policies—including everything from differential wage scales to such things as the sending of millions of educated youth to the countryside to integrate with the masses of peasants—all such things include an element of coercion.
Of course, coercion cannot be relied on in relation to the masses of people—education and struggle on the basis of a communist ideological and political line must be relied on—but this cannot eliminate altogether the element of coercion involved here. This is related to the underlying existence of inequalities left over from the old society—such as the differences between the city and the countryside, between the workers and the peasants, and between mental and manual labour. Lenin spoke of how the state was still necessary in socialist society (and he meant even after ownership of the means of production was completely socialized) because of the existence of such contradictions. This state is necessary, he said, in order to ensure that such contradictions were handled in a way consistent with the advance to communism, but at the same time the exercise of this state power—the dictatorship of the proletariat—includes the enforcement of “bourgeois right” (the expression in law and policy of relations that contain the elements of inequality left over from the old society). To drive his point home, in a somewhat provocative way, Lenin referred to this state as “the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie” (see Lenin, The State and Revolution, Collected Works [LCW], Moscow: Progress Publishers, vol. 25, p. 476).
The logic guiding this CRC document cannot provide an answer to the question posed, according to the same (bourgeois) logic: If socialism is really in the interests of the majority of the people, if it relies on the masses of people and corresponds with their interests, while the interests of only a small minority of exploiters lie in opposing socialism and restoring capitalism, then why is it necessary to have a dictatorship at all?
I spoke to this question at great length in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? (particularly chapter 7). There I quoted extensively from Lenin’s work “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, which deals with this question in a very trenchant way. Lenin speaks to both the internal basis and the international connections of the bourgeoisie which give it real advantages over the proletariat which is newly risen to power and does not have historical experience of exercising power. He shows why, for all these reasons, the dictatorship of the proletariat will be necessary for a long period of time.
This same question was returned to repeatedly by Lenin during the early years of the Soviet Republic, and his works during that period give a very rich, if still beginning, analysis of why the dictatorship of the proletariat will be necessary for an entire period of transition from capitalism to a higher stage of society. And, as we know, Mao developed this analysis further and systematized it into the basic line that socialism constitutes a long historical period of transition from capitalism to communism, that all throughout this period there are classes and class struggle, and that it is necessary to combat capitalist restoration and continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the CRC document has lost sight of all this: with its logic, it cannot give a materialist explanation of why the dictatorship of the proletariat is absolutely necessary throughout the stage of socialism and how this dictatorship is not in conflict with but consistent with the fact that socialism and the advance to communism conform to the fundamental interests of the proletariat and broad masses in opposition to a handful of exploiters.
Rather than continue with the discussion of general conclusions drawn from this CRC document, it would be better to turn now to an examination of some of the particular arguments made in this document. This will help to “flesh out” and to extend and deepen these basic conclusions.
On Recent Events in the Former Soviet Bloc and China
From the very start, the way things are formulated in this document reveals a tailing after petit-bourgeois democratic illusions—and a bourgeois-democratic conceptualization in general. In the first sentence, the events of the last few years “in former socialist countries such as China, the Soviet Union, and those in East Europe” are referred to simply as “democratic upsurges”. (paragraph 1.1—see CRC document starting p. 74)
First of all, these events, including the mass upheavals in such countries, have involved many different class forces, mobilized around a number of different programs, but the essential fact is that bourgeois ideology and politics have been in the lead. To describe these simply as “democratic upsurges” is to fail to make any serious class analysis—and to present democracy as it is presented by the bourgeoisie: as a “universal”, “classless” phenomenon. It is to tail petit-bourgeois spontaneity, and more to promote, indirectly at least, the bourgeois forces, outlooks and programs in the lead of these “democratic upsurges”.
And this is true, despite the fact that this document goes on to make general statements about how “M-L forces have cautioned them [the people] that bourgeois democracy or an unconcealed capitalism is not the solution”. (par. 1.2) For, once again, to simply characterize these upsurges as “democratic” is to cover over their bourgeois-democratic essence: the essence of a thing, as Mao made clear, is determined by its principal aspect, which in this case is the domination of bourgeois forces and outlooks within these “democratic upsurges”.
Further, it is important to take note of what might, at first, seem like a minor matter of formulation. At the beginning of the second paragraph we find the characterization of the regimes in “the former socialist countries” as “social fascist” (par. 1.2, emphasis added). This is a formulation that was used by Mao, and has been used by Maoists following him (including at times our Party, although we have more come to characterize the form of bourgeois rule in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and the like, as “revisionist democracy”). But the important point is that Maoists have always stressed the class content—the bourgeois essence—of this revisionist rule. Both in spontaneous popular consciousness and in the history of the international communist movement, fascism has tended to be treated as something virtually “above classes”, something which is “worse” than “normal” bourgeois dictatorship, something which justifies reducing the terms of struggle to fascism vs. bourgeois democracy. This is what is suggested in this CRC document as well: the use of “social fascist” to refer to revisionist regimes is repeated and consistent throughout this document, and when to this is contrasted “democratic upsurges” then there is the clear implication that democracy—what is in essence bourgeois democracy—is preferable to “social fascism” and to open dictatorship in general—including, as we shall see, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But we do not have to rely on drawing inferences from seemingly subtle nuances. Soon enough this document openly repudiates the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat beginning with the Soviet Revolution, and in opposition to this comes out with a call for what is barely disguised bourgeois democracy. When the document says, from the very first paragraph, that in response to the “repercussions of these developments” (“the recent wave of democratic upsurges in former socialist countries”) communists “have to grasp the depth of these problems and find out appropriate answers”, it is already becoming evident that this document regards the basic answers that have been given by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to be insufficient or incorrect and that what it intends is a fundamental re-evaluation—and rejection—of what is soon referred to as “the traditional Marxist-Leninist interpretation of capitalist restoration in the former socialist countries”. (par. 1.3)
This is made more explicit and further elabourated before long:
“In this situation, it is the duty of the genuine communists to look back and identify the root cause for the problem faced by the communist movement. Without answering the basic issues raised in front of us no communist organisation can advance in its own practice. Such basic questions if left unanswered for long, will demoralize the cadres and weaken the organisation. Therefore, the resolution of these problems, or at least attempts at resolution, must be taken up as an urgent political task. It is in this spirit that we call upon all genuine communists to re-examine the whole history of the communist movement and the basic concepts we had held aloft so far, so as to get a clear picture of the dictatorship of the proletariat as practised until now”. (par. 1.9)
So, let’s look at this “re-examination”.
First let’s begin with another quote from this document. Referring to “the traditional Marxist-Leninist interpretation of capitalist restoration”, the document says, “This explanation is basically correct in relation to the economic aspect of capitalist restoration. But it is not sufficient to answer the principal political issue raised by the masses in these countries. Their major demand is the dismantling of the existing political system which ensures the monopoly of the communist party.” (par. 1.3)
To begin with, this is a metaphysical separation of politics and economics—there cannot be an explanation that is correct in regard to the economic aspect but incorrect, or “insufficient” in fundamental terms, in regard to the political aspect. Further, referring, as the CRC document does, to “the masses” and “their major demand” obscures the fact that this “dismantling of the existing political system”, while it may have considerable mass support and express considerable mass sentiment, is above all the demand of certain bourgeois forces, both in the sense that they are the ones who have been the motive force in promoting it and, more fundamentally, in the sense that it corresponds to their particular interests and meets real needs of theirs in the present situation.
Then the document goes on: “But so far as the masses of these countries are concerned, there is no difference between the essential structures of this social fascist political system and those which existed earlier when they were socialist.” (par. 1.3) And the document makes clear it agrees with this view: “Even in China, where the Cultural Revolution gave rise to a new political situation, the state structure under Deng is not essentially different from the one which existed previously.” (ibid)
What an astounding statement! No difference?! This amounts to tailing after the most backward among the masses and after the bourgeoisie, which has long run this line. This is ridiculous when applied to the Soviet Union—not only in the early years, in the time of Lenin’s leadership, but even as an assessment of the decades during which Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. Let’s look at a few examples: the waging of the war against counterrevolutionary forces and imperialist invaders in the first years of the Soviet Republic; the lively struggles within the party throughout the ’20s (notwithstanding the fact that organized factions were outlawed in the party); the mobilization of class-conscious contingents and the mass upheavals that brought into being the collective farms in the early 1930s; the mobilizations of the masses to carry out socialist industrialization, despite certain definite erroneous tendencies involved with this—all this and countless other examples are clear evidence that there was a radical difference between the Soviet Union when it was socialist and then when the revisionists seized power and restored capitalism.
It is true that, especially after major transformations had been carried out in the economy of the Soviet Union (by the mid-1930s), there was a real tendency for the Soviet Party and Stalin as its leader to rely more on administrative measures, experts, and so on. Criticism of this can and must be made—and has been made by Maoists—and an understanding of the basis for these erroneous tendencies must be deepened. But this can only be done, correctly, on the basis of MLM principles and not those of bourgeois democracy. As a guideline in this, not the howls of Trotskyites, Mensheviks, Kautskyites and bourgeois democrats generally about the horrors of bureaucracy under Stalin (and Lenin) but the following from Mao Tsetung sets the correct orientation: “At that time Stalin had nothing else to rely on except the masses, so he demanded all-out mobilization of the party and the masses [Mao is referring to the period of the late 1920s and early ’30s]. Afterward, when they had realized some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses.” (Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977, p. 119) But it must be kept in mind, as Mao consistently did, that there is a world of difference between Marxists who err—even seriously err—in the direction of becoming less reliant on the masses and revisionists whose rule is based on the exploitation and oppression of the masses.
It is sheer idealism and metaphysics to argue that this radical difference was not reflected throughout the institutions of society—in what actually took place there and on what basis—and in the relation of the masses to all this and their attitude toward it.
This argument is shallow formalism. What it amounts to is saying that, because there was the institutionalized role of the communist party as the leader of all facets of political and economic life, therefore it made no essential difference whether this leadership represented the socialist or the capitalist road. And to justify this argument in the name of “classless” masses who see “no difference” between the “essential structures” of socialism and capitalism is, at best, to tail after those strata and ideas among the masses that are most in thrall to the outlook of the bourgeoisie.
And this is all the more patently ridiculous when applied to China. Have the authors of this CRC document “forgotten” the tremendous transformations that were carried out on all levels of Chinese society, first of all with the nationwide seizure of power and even more so through the Cultural Revolution? Apparently they have “forgotten” how the revisionists, having seized power after Mao’s death in 1976, set about systematically attacking and reversing all this, dismantling these “socialist new things”—things such as the revolutionary committees, from the basic levels on up, which combined the masses and leaders in actual forms of government and administration; the various 3-in-1 combinations, combining the masses, cadres and experts, and so on, on all levels of society; the participation of the workers in management and of managers as well as leading officials in productive labour as an official policy; the May 7 cadre schools where cadres of the party and state went to the countryside and took part in productive labour as well as study and ideological and political struggle; “open-door” education and science, mobilizing and relying on the masses and combining experts with the masses and practical experience with theoretical study; health care oriented toward the masses, and in particular toward the masses in the rural areas, and relying not simply on professional medical personnel but “barefoot doctors” throughout the countryside and so on.
Also, very decisively, the revisionists have made fundamental changes in the People’s Liberation Army, abolishing its character as a revolutionary army that relies on the conscious dynamic role of its soldiers and the support of the broad masses. The revisionists have replaced this with a “professionalized” bourgeois armed force. It is this “new” PLA that carried out the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Along with this, the revisionists have reversed the earlier efforts, under revolutionary leadership, to build up the militia precisely as an expression of the broad masses themselves in arms, guided by a proletarian line (even while it remained the case that the standing army could not be abolished for some time, for all the reasons that will be discussed here).3
Do the authors of this CRC document really expect anyone who is familiar with all this to believe that this constitutes no real difference in the essential structures of society or that the masses—particularly the masses of workers and peasants—are unaware of these differences or consider them insignificant?! When, in accordance with the “essential structures” and the prevailing proletarian ideology in socialist China, the workers on the Shanghai docks raised the slogan “Be masters of the wharves, not slaves to tonnage”; when the workers in an enterprise marched into the management office, demanding of the management personnel, “Where are your hammers”—where is your participation, together with the workers, in productive labour?—was that not a radical difference from the situation in China today, and don’t the masses of workers know the difference? When the people’s communes in the countryside were broken up and rich-peasant farming promoted, while the policy of giving priority to agriculture in the national economy was undermined; when “serve the people” was replaced by “to get rich is glorious” as a guiding principle—did not all this represent a radical reversal which the masses of working people could not help but recognize? Once again, when this CRC document speaks of “the masses”, it apparently has in mind the most backward and above all those among the intellectuals and other privileged strata who are most influenced by “classical” bourgeois-democratic ideas and bourgeois ideology in general.
The Paris Commune in Perspective: The Bolshevik and Chinese Revolutions as its Continuation and Deepening
Next, let’s turn to the review in this CRC document of what Marx summed up from the Paris Commune*, in his monumental work The Civil War in France, particularly regarding the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the armed people themselves and the fact that all officials in the Commune were elected and could be recalled by the votes of the people, through universal suffrage. These sections of the CRC document also recall how Lenin upheld these essential lessons in The State and Revolution (and some other writings in the period just before and for a period after the October Revolution), but then, even under Lenin, the CRC document argues, there began a basic departure from this path (see paragraphs 2.1-6.6).
First, some “historical overview” is required. Here we have to call attention once more to the fact that in the experience of the Soviet Union (and of socialism generally so far), it has not proved possible to fully implement the policies adopted in the Paris Commune—and, to a large degree, in the very beginning of the Soviet Republic—policies to which Marx had attached decisive importance. To focus on a key aspect of this, it has not been possible to abolish the standing army as an institution and to replace it with the armed masses themselves. This is largely owing to what has been spoken to before: the fact that revolutions leading to socialism have taken place not in industrially developed capitalist countries where the proletariat is the majority of the population (or at least is the largest class), as Marx and Engels had foreseen, but in technologically backward countries with large peasant populations where the proletariat is a small minority; these revolutions have occurred not in a number of countries all at once, but more or less in one country at a time (leaving aside the experience of the Eastern European countries in the aftermath of World War 2, where there was some transformation in aspects of social relations but there was never a real socialist transformation of society); and socialist states have existed in a world still dominated by imperialism.
As for why it has not been possible so far—and is very unlikely to be possible for some time into the future—for socialist countries to abolish the standing army and replace it with the armed masses as a whole, it can be summarized this way: To do this will require an advancement in the transformation of production relations (and social relations generally), as well as in the development of the productive forces, to the point where the masses as a whole, and not just a small part of them, can be organized and trained in military affairs on a level that is really sufficient to deal not only with “domestic” counterrevolutionaries but beyond that the armed forces of the remaining imperialist powers and other reactionary states. When that point is reached, there will in fact no longer be a need for a section of the masses—a special body of armed people—who specialize in and devote their main activity to military affairs: the standing army can then be abolished and replaced with the armed masses. But, again, no socialist state that has so far existed has achieved or even come anywhere near that point.
Marx, in his writings on the Paris Commune (and Lenin when he wrote The State and Revolution before the October Revolution), did not have this experience to sum up. To a significant degree, while the fundamental orientation in these works concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat must be upheld, many particular aspects of their analysis reflect an insufficient understanding of the intensity, complexity, and duration of the struggle to carry out the communist transformation of society—and the world—after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established in one or a number of countries. After all, the Paris Commune only lasted two months and only in parts—though very important parts—of France, and not in the country as a whole.
To highlight, in a somewhat provocative way, the historical limitations of the Paris Commune, it is useful to repeat what I wrote in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?:
“In this regard, the following argument by James Miller concerning Marx’s view of the Paris Commune of 1871 is worth citing:
“‘the insurgents of 1871 were remarkably like the Parisian insurgents of 1792, 1830, and 1848: artisans, journeymen, apprentices, independent producers, professionals, and only a few labourers in the new factory industries. Though the Commune of 1871 may be regarded as the last efflorescence of the French popular culture of politics Rousseau helped to define three generations before, it is far more difficult, particularly in the light of modern historiography, to find in it a harbinger of an international proletarian revolution.’ (Miller, Rousseau, pp. 260-61)
“While Miller’s observations are one-sided and his last sentence in particular is wrong—it is Miller’s bourgeois bias that makes it hard for him to find in the 1871 Paris Commune ‘a harbinger of an international proletarian revolution’—nevertheless, his comments are not without any validity. They do reflect the fact that even this Paris Commune embodied both elements of the old, bourgeois revolution as well as of the new, proletarian revolution and that it could not, as such, serve as a fully developed model of a proletarian state (especially one in the early stages of the international proletarian revolution and surrounded by powerful bourgeois states).” (Avakian, Democracy, pp. 38-39, footnote 63)
We cannot take an idealist and metaphysical approach of insisting that reality must be bent to conform to what was projected by Marx (and Lenin, before the October Revolution in particular) on the basis of this very significant but also very limited experience of the Paris Commune. If we are going to do that, we might as well insist that the proletariat leap immediately from capitalism to full-blown communism and thereby avoid all the contradictions involved in the socialist transition and the dictatorship of the proletariat! What we should insist on is evaluating the line and practice guiding the states where such revolutions have occurred to see whether in fact they are consistent with the fundamental orientation set forth by Marx through his summation on the Paris Commune—whether the lines, policies, institutions, and ideas that have characterized those societies have overall led in the direction of transforming society toward the abolition of classes and, with them, the state (and the party). On the basis of these criteria, we must once again reaffirm “the traditional Marxist-Leninist[-Maoist] interpretation” that the Soviet Union under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, and China under the leadership of Mao, represented the continuation of the Paris Commune.
One other point must be addressed here—another way in which the expectations of Lenin with regard to the character of the proletarian revolution have not been fully borne out. In the first year after the October Revolution, Lenin wrote that:
“The misfortune of previous revolutions was that the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people, which sustained them in their state of tension and gave them the strength to suppress ruthlessly the elements of disintegration, did not last long. The social, i.e., the class, reason for this instability of the revolutionary enthusiasm of the people was the weakness of the proletariat, which alone is able (if it is sufficiently numerous, class-conscious and disciplined) to win over to its side the majority of the working and exploited people (the majority of the poor, to speak more simply and popularly) and retain power sufficiently long to suppress completely all the exploiters as well as all the elements of disintegration.
“It was this historical experience of all revolutions, it was this world-historic—economic and political—lesson that Marx summed up when he gave his short, sharp, concise and expressive formula: dictatorship of the proletariat.” (“The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government”, LCW, vol. 27, pp. 264-65, emphasis in original)
Here Lenin was contrasting a revolution led by the proletariat with earlier revolutions in which the proletariat was not able to win leadership and carry the struggle as far as the overthrow of capitalism. But, in certain significant aspects, what Lenin says here—concerning the difficulty of maintaining the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses—has also proven to apply to the proletarian revolution itself.
This is linked to what has been the actual process of the proletarian revolution so far in the world (discussed above) and the related fact that the transition from capitalism to communism has proven to be a much more long-term, complex, and tortuous process than had been previously envisioned, not only by Marx and Engels but also by Lenin himself before the October Revolution and in the period immediately afterward (it was in the early 1920s, in the last few years of his life, that Lenin more fully confronted the fact that the Soviet Revolution would very probably have to “go it alone” for a period of time).
All this, in turn, is bound up with the fact that there is a wave-like character to the class struggle under socialism and in particular a wave-like character to mass upsurges to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat and carry the revolution forward under this dictatorship. To return to Lenin’s statement about maintaining the revolutionary energy and enthusiasm of the masses, the point can be put this way: as it has turned out, with the socialist transition period and the dictatorship of the proletariat lasting much longer than expected, and with the initial socialist revolutions not being closely followed by other revolutions in more technologically advanced societies; with the socialist states continuing to exist in a situation of being encircled by imperialism—with all of these factors that have been discussed, it is not realistic to expect nor has it been the case that the masses have been able to maintain a high pitch and intensity of revolutionary enthusiasm and energy on a continual basis. In fact, the expectation that they could is contradicted not only by experience but also by the principles of dialectics.
It is because of, and as part of, this contradictory nature of the whole process of transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, that the role of the masses as rulers of society and owners of the means of production under socialism is real but is not absolute—it is relative and sharply contradictory—and is both expressed directly through their own involvement in all spheres of society and is mediated through a number of instrumentalities, above all the state and the vanguard party.
Once again, no formalistic approach—no insistence on formal democracy as the essence of the matter—can even seriously address, let alone resolve, this contradiction. And to insist on such an approach is in fact to act in accordance with the principles of bourgeois democracy and with the interests of the bourgeoisie in attacking and undermining the dictatorship of the proletariat precisely on the basis that, because it does not conform in every important respect to the principles of formal democracy, it therefore represents a negation of democracy, even for those in whose name it is exercised.
Let’s turn to more particular points on this.
The document says: “This overall programme for seizure of power was implemented by the second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies held on October 25-26, 1917.” (par. 5.2)
But, it is important to note, the Bolsheviks did not wait for this Congress to seize power—they initiated the armed insurrection before this Congress. As is recounted in the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), this All-Russia Congress of Soviets opened “when the uprising in Petrograd was already in the full flush of victory and the power in the capital [Petrograd] had actually passed into the hands of the Petrograd Soviet”. (HCPSU, Moscow, 1939, Chapter Seven, part 6) Trotsky, among others, opposed this, standing on the formality that the armed insurrection should be declared by this All-Russia Congress of Soviets. All this is linked with the point made earlier (in the summary of general conclusions) about how the insistence on formal democracy that marks the CRC document would lead logically to declaring the Bolshevik-led armed insurrection to be a violation of democracy and a failure to rely on the masses, through their representative institutions, to carry out the seizure of power. This is very much in line with the arguments Trotsky made at the time; and if such arguments had been listened to, that would very probably have killed the armed insurrection, and then there never would have been an October Revolution to argue about.
The CRC document allows that the Bolshevik decision to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly “was justifiable in the sense that the power of the Soviets which had emerged through revolution was really representing the political will of the vast majority of the people”. And the document seems to say it was justified for the Constituent Assembly to then be dissolved, through an act of the Central Committee of the All-Russia Soviet—an act taken on the initiative of the Bolsheviks (see par. 5.4).
Note well: “was really representing the political will of the vast majority of the people”. This is correct—and, as stressed before, this also applied to the carrying out of the armed insurrection, even though that was not strictly done through the decision of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets or with the formal approval of the majority of the masses, through their elected organs. In fact this criterion—whether or not something conforms to the basic interests but also to the “political will” of the masses of people—is the essence of the matter and far more decisive than questions of formal democracy. But it is precisely this criterion that this document “forgets”—abandons and replaces with criteria of formal democracy—in its “re-examination” of the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat—no, more, of “the whole history of the communist movement and the basic concepts we had held aloft so far”.
Then the document says: “But, what was developing...[was that] the new political system was gradually coming under the control of the communist party.” (par. 5.7) Here is where the argument about “the dictatorship of the party” begins to become more full-blown. The document goes on to assert that:
“Lenin categorically declared the role of the communist party thus: ‘After two and a half years of the Soviet power we came out in the Communist International and told the world that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not work except through the Communist Party.’ (p. 199, vol. 32, Collected Works) Now the circle is complete. The practical programme for establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat which started with the attractive slogan, ‘All power to the Soviets’ ended with the reality that the dictatorship of the proletariat was exercised through the Communist Party, where the Soviets became mere cogwheels in the machine. Even though Kautsky’s criticism was coming from the angle of bourgeois parliamentarism, the fact remains that in the present day world situation, when a qualitatively new political system as envisaged in a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat has not emerged as a historical reality, it is not the class, but its party that actually governs.” (par. 5.8)
Quite a few assertions, and distortions, are made here, touching on fundamental questions, so it is necessary to go into them in some depth. First, we cannot let pass the seemingly innocent clause “Even though Kautsky’s criticism was coming from the angle of bourgeois parliamentarism”. In fact the “even though” here is just the point—Kautsky’s objection to the dictatorship of the proletariat as practised under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, from the time of Lenin on, was completely bound up with “bourgeois parliamentarism”—it was precisely the standpoint of such “parliamentarism” that caused Kautsky to distort what this dictatorship of the proletariat was and to oppose it. And it is fundamentally the same standpoint that informs (or misinforms) the distortion and repudiation of the whole historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in this document. In fact, this document is marked by Kautskyite logic throughout, “even though” it does not openly, fully, embrace Kautsky.
This is reflected in the distorted and tortured use of the quotes from Lenin and Stalin in this section of the CRC document. First, let’s look at this document’s treatment of the statements by Lenin on the essential point that, as Lenin plainly puts it, the dictatorship of the proletariat will not work without the leading role of the communist party.
In the very same work of Lenin’s (and on the very same page) from which the CRC document quotes, Lenin makes clear that this does not mean that the party exercises dictatorship instead of the proletariat, or that the party is somehow separated from the proletariat in the exercise of this dictatorship. He makes clear that it is the proletariat that exercises dictatorship, but that it cannot do this without the leadership of the party. Again, on the very page cited, and throughout this work (Lenin’s speeches at the 10th Party Congress in March 1921), Lenin stresses that it is an anarchist and syndicalist tendency which cannot see the unity between the leadership of the party and the exercise of dictatorship by the masses of proletarians; and that accusations about party dictatorship are arising in the context of and to a considerable degree because of the influence of the atmosphere of petit-bourgeois disintegration that then existed in the Soviet Republic as a result of the long civil war and the massive dislocations and economic ruin that resulted from that war and in its wake (the class position and outlook of many workers was being undermined in these conditions; masses of peasants were being ruined; and the economic links between workers and peasants, city and countryside, had not yet been firmly re-established and recast along new lines). This reply of Lenin to his critics at that time stands very well as the answer to the authors of this CRC document, some 70 years later.
As for the statement that “the Soviets became mere cogwheels in the machine”, apparently the authors of this document think they have made a profound point by adding the word “mere” here. But, as Lenin explains it, there is nothing “mere” about it. He makes clear that while, on the one hand, “the Party, shall we say, absorbs the vanguard of the proletariat, and this vanguard exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat”, at the same time, the functions of government “have to be performed through the medium of special institutions which are also of a new type, namely, the Soviets”. (“The Trade Unions, the Present Situation and Trotsky’s Mistakes”, LCW, vol. 32, p. 20) The authors of this document actually quote this statement from Lenin, but they do not grasp its significance—apparently they are so put off by the use of the metaphor “cogwheels” that to them it is of little importance that Lenin says that the Soviets perform the functions of government and that these Soviets are “special institutions” and are “of a new type” (note: they are not the same old institutions of bourgeois society but represent a radically new form of state power and are performing the functions of government). How, and with what outlook, is it possible to miss the historic significance of this?
Yes, Lenin does frankly discuss the fact that “in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts (by imperialism in some countries) that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat [here Lenin is referring to the trade unions in particular] cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class.” (ibid, p. 21) And then Lenin goes on to make the infamous statement that, “The whole is like an arrangement of cogwheels”, and, “It cannot work without a number of ‘transmission belts’ running from the vanguard to the mass of the advanced class, and from the latter to the mass of the working people.” (ibid)
One can only ask here: what is wrong with this? Where, in any of this, is there the notion that the party exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat and the functions of government in place of the masses? The only objection that can be raised—and the one that is in fact being raised in this CRC document—is that Lenin insists on the leading role of the party. You may object to that if you wish—and certainly the bourgeoisie, and various Mensheviks, social-democrats and so on, from the time of Lenin on down, have strenuously objected to it—but anyone claiming to be a communist and to uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat in principle must show how the masses can in fact exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat and prevent the restoration of capitalism without the leading role of the party that is, without the institutionalized leading role of the party. The one is the same as the other: recognizing this leading role in words while insisting it not be an institutionalized leading role amounts in reality to the same thing as negating this leading role altogether. We shall see how this CRC document aims to show precisely that the masses would be better off without the (institutionalized) leading role of the party under socialism, and how the document fails miserably—as it must—to show this.
To put this whole question of the role of the Soviets (and other mass organizations) in relation to the Communist Party in broader, and more historical, perspective, it is necessary to “demystify” this whole thing a bit. In the first place, although in a real and profound sense the Soviets were the creation of the masses, this was never a question of some “pure” or purely “spontaneous” creation of the masses. The Soviets were the product of the class struggle, in which the masses were influenced by a number of different political forces, including the Bolsheviks and also the Mensheviks and a number of others. And within the Soviets, from their inception, there was continual and often fierce struggle between representatives of different trends, ultimately representing different class interests.
A concentrated focus of this struggle was the question of what, after all, was the political role of the Soviets and what process they were to be part of. To put it simply, the Bolsheviks saw in the Soviets a means for the masses to be organized for the overthrow of the old order, the smashing of the old state machinery and the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat; the Mensheviks and others rejected and resisted this—their view of the Soviets flowed from their petit-bourgeois outlook—and when and to the degree that they led or influenced the Soviets, this was in the direction of turning them into mass organizations oriented toward social-democratic and/or anarchist programs, in opposition to the seizure and exercise of state power by the proletariat. Struggle over these fundamental differences went on within the Soviets before and right up to the October insurrection; and it went on, in different forms, after power was seized.
It is true that, not long after the seizure of power, Lenin recognized the need for an adjustment in the role of the Soviets and the relation of the Party to them, which is reflected in the statements by Lenin that the CRC document cites. But this has to be understood in the context of the concrete events of the time as well as in a larger historical perspective. As noted earlier, this was a situation of desperate civil war and then, even with victory in that war, of massive disruption, dislocation, and disintegration, economically and politically. In these circumstances, many of the most advanced elements within the Soviets had volunteered to become leaders and commissars of a Red Army that had to be created, almost literally, overnight and hurled into decisive battle. Others were mobilized on different but also decisive fronts of struggle: on trouble-shooting missions where crises of various kinds had erupted; to help in the suppression of counterrevolutionaries; to help staff the food administration, factory management, etc.; and to join and build up the Party.
The fact is that, by the end of the civil war, tens of thousands of workers, soldiers, and sailors held responsible administrative positions (and this policy of absorbing advanced masses into the governing apparatus would continue with the collectivization and industrialization drives later, under Stalin’s leadership). But it was also a fact that, as a result of all this, many of the best and most far-sighted leaders of the proletariat were enlisted not in the Soviets but in other institutions. And, along with this, there was a shift in the relative weight of the Soviets, as compared to these other institutions, including especially the Party, in the actual administration of society and the overall exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is what Lenin is speaking to with his much-maligned analogy about cogwheels, conveyor belts, and so on, and his more general statement about the leading role of the party in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat: Lenin is summing up, from the actual experience of that crucial period, that it is not possible to exercise this dictatorship simply through the Soviets or without systematic (institutionalized) party leadership of the Soviets (and other institutions and mass organizations). But he is not saying that the Soviets will no longer play a decisive role—he makes clear that they will continue to be relied on to perform the functions of government. He is not saying the party can replace the Soviets (or those other institutions and mass organizations) in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He is not saying the leaders, rather than the masses, are decisive in the exercise of this dictatorship.4
Here it seems important to speak to another practice of the Paris Commune that Marx identified as a matter of decisive importance: the “replaceability” or “revocability” of leaders. Once again the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has shown that it has not been possible to apply this principle in the strict sense in which Marx spoke of it, drawing from the Paris Commune, where officials were elected by the masses and subject to recall by them at any time.
It must be said straight-up that it does not get to the essence of things if the masses have the formal right to replace leaders, when the social conditions (contradictions) are such that some people are less “replaceable” than others. To give an extreme example, if the masses in socialist China had had the right to vote Mao out of office, and if they had exercised that right foolishly and voted him out, they would have been confronted with the stark fact that there wouldn’t have been another Mao to take his place. In reality, they would find themselves in a situation where someone would have to play a role which, from a formal standpoint, would be the same as that of Mao; that is, someone would have to occupy leading positions like that, and the division of labour in society—in particular between mental and manual labour—would mean that only a small section of people would then be capable of playing such a role. Voting Mao out of office would only mean that somebody less qualified—or, even worse, someone representing the bourgeoisie instead of the proletariat—would be playing that leadership role. You can’t get around this, and adhering to the strictures of formal democracy would be no help at all.5
This, of course, does not mean that the division between masses and leaders should be made into an absolute, rather than being restricted and finally overcome; nor still less does it mean that the leaders and not the masses should be seen as the real masters of socialist society. In revolutionary China great emphasis was given to the role of the masses in criticizing and in an overall sense supervising the leaders. And this found expression on a whole new level through the Cultural Revolution, which, Mao stressed, represented something radically new—“a form, a method, to arouse the broad masses to expose our dark aspect openly, in an all-round way and from below”. (Mao, cited in Report to the Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Peking: Foreign Languages Press [FLP], p. 27) Yet, as important and pathbreaking as this was, the fact remains that throughout the socialist transition there will not only be the need for leaders—and an objective contradiction between leaders and led—but there will be the possibility for this to be transformed into relations of exploitation and oppression.
Given the contradictions that characterize the transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, if the party did not play the leading role that it has within the proletarian state, that role would be played by other organized groups—bourgeois cliques—and soon enough the state would no longer be proletarian, but bourgeois. It must be said bluntly that, from the point of view of the proletariat, the problem with the ruling parties in the revisionist countries is not that they have had a “monopoly” of political power but that they have exercised that political power to restore and maintain capitalism. The problem is that they are not revolutionary, not really communist—and therefore they do not rely on and mobilize the masses to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to continue the revolution under this dictatorship.
As spoken to above, through the Cultural Revolution in China new means and methods were developed for attacking the differences and inequalities left over from the old society—means and methods for restricting bourgeois right to the greatest degree possible at any given time in accordance with the material and ideological conditions. Yet it will remain a fundamental contradiction throughout the socialist transition period that there are these underlying differences and inequalities and their expression in bourgeois right, which constitute the material basis for classes, class struggle and the danger of capitalist restoration. This is a problem that cannot even be fundamentally addressed, let alone solved, by a formalistic approach. It has to be addressed through waging class struggle under the leadership of revolutionary communists—making this the key link—and in no other way. And this is exactly how it was approached under Mao’s leadership.
Specifically with regard to income distribution, through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution a basic orientation and, flowing from it, concrete policies were adopted to gradually narrow wage differentials—in accordance with the development of common affluence and mainly by raising the bottom levels up. As an important part of this, there was an orientation of keeping the difference in pay between government officials and ordinary workers as little as possible—the fundamental spirit of the Paris Commune on this was proclaimed and upheld in practice—although such pay differences still existed and were viewed as something that had to be further reduced. But, once again, as important as it was to apply such principles, in correspondence with the actual conditions at any given time, this could not change the essential fact that, for a long historical period, there will persist differences and inequalities in socialist society which contain within them the potential to develop into class antagonism if a proletarian line is not in command in dealing with them.
The Exercise of Power in Socialist Society:
Leadership, the Masses and Proletarian Dictatorship
With this in mind, let’s return to the question of the “dictatorship of the party”. The CRC document goes on to say that, “The position taken by Lenin in relation to the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat is not very different from the position Stalin adopted and implemented.” (par. 5.9) This is essentially true—although this involves sharp contradiction, it is true in its principal aspect that Stalin upheld and applied Leninist principle in leading the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union—and this is to the credit of Stalin. But to cast Stalin, and Lenin, in a bad light and buttress its accusations against “the dictatorship of the party”, the document says that, “Stalin argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat is ‘in essence’ the dictatorship of the party. And in exercising this dictatorship, the party uses the Soviets as mere transition belts like the trade unions, Youth league, etc.” (par. 5.9)
It is remarkable how the CRC document quotes this one phrase from Stalin, but it does not quote what he says, at great length, before and after it. First, here is the immediate context in which Stalin uses this phrase:
“The highest expression of the leading role of the Party, here, in the Soviet Union, in the land of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for example, is the fact that not a single important political or organizational question is decided by our Soviet and other mass organizations without guiding directives from the Party. In this sense it could be said that the dictatorship of the proletariat is, in essence, the ‘dictatorship’ of its vanguard, the ‘dictatorship’ of its Party, as the main guiding force of the proletariat.” (J. V. Stalin, “Concerning Questions of Leninism”, part V, in Problems of Leninism [POL], Peking: FLP, p. 184, emphasis in original)
Stalin then goes on to discuss, for literally page, after page, after page, how this must not be taken to mean that “a sign of equality can be put between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leading role of the Party (the ‘dictatorship’ of the Party), that the former can be identified with the latter, that the latter [the Party] can be substituted for the former [the proletariat]”. (ibid, emphasis in original) He explicitly argues that, “To say ‘in essence’ does not mean ‘wholly’” (ibid, p. 185), and he discusses in some detail why this is so. He not only polemicizes at length against a line of attempting to substitute the Party for the masses in the exercise of this dictatorship but specifically says that, “whoever identifies the leading role of the Party with the dictatorship of the proletariat substitutes the Party for the Soviets, i.e., for the state power”. (ibid, p. 189, emphasis added)
Stalin stresses the importance of applying the mass line. He insists that the Party must maintain correct “mutual relations” with the masses, relations of “mutual confidence”, and this means “that the Party must closely heed the voice of the masses; that it must pay careful attention to the revolutionary instinct of the masses; that it must study the practice of the struggle of the masses and on this basis test the correctness of its own policy; that, consequently, it must not only teach the masses, but also learn from them”. (ibid, pp. 190-91) He warns against any tendency to turn the leading role of the party into a dictatorship over the masses and emphatically states:
“Can the Party’s leadership be imposed on the class by force? No, it cannot. At all events, such a leadership cannot be at all durable. If the Party wants to remain the party of the proletariat it must know that it is, primarily and principally, the guide, the leader, the teacher of the working class.... Can one consider the Party as the real leader of the class if its policy is wrong, if its policy comes into collision with the interests of the class? Of course not. In such cases the Party, if it wants to remain the leader, must reconsider its policy, must correct its policy, must acknowledge its mistake and correct it.” (ibid, pp. 196-7, emphasis in original)
And so on—once again for page, after page, after page, Stalin elaborates these decisive points in opposition to the notion that the Party can substitute for the masses in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat or even exercise dictatorship against the will and interests of the masses, by imposing its leadership on them through force.
But none of this is dealt with in this CRC document, which quotes the “in essence” phrase, adds a statement about how Stalin said the Soviets were used by the Party “as mere transmission belts” and leaves it at that. It is difficult to believe that the authors of this document did not even bother to read the whole passage in question—and still more difficult to believe that, if they did, they willfully chose to ignore all that Stalin goes on to say about this question. But, once again, these are the typical methods of those who oppose the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat from the standpoint of bourgeois democracy—even of a radical or “socialist” variety—these are the methods one is forced to adopt once one repudiates “the basic concepts we had held aloft so far” and succumbs instead to bourgeois logic.
It could be argued that, even with everything Stalin says about this question, along the lines I have cited here, still the formulation that the dictatorship of the proletariat is “in essence” the dictatorship of the party is a rather unfortunate one. There is, I believe, some truth to this: ironically, this formulation itself can be interpreted as cutting against the very relationship that Stalin was insisting on—the relationship in which the masses exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of the party. It could be further argued that this formulation can reflect, or at least encourage, a tendency toward not relying on the masses, toward a “top-down” orientation. And, especially in light of experience—positive as well as negative—since that time, it must be said that there is some truth to this as well. Such a tendency did become rather pronounced in Stalin. This, however, was not a straight-line process but one in which a more correct orientation on Stalin’s part was, in certain significant aspects, turned into its opposite, as Mao pointed out.
But the CRC document treats this as if, from the start, Stalin had an orientation of not relying on the masses; as if, following in Lenin’s footsteps, Stalin was advocating and carrying out a line of replacing the dictatorship of the masses with the dictatorship of the party. In fact, this is a line Lenin firmly opposed; it is a line Stalin rejected—explicitly, emphatically, and with extensive argumentation—in the very work the CRC document cites. In that work Stalin, following Lenin, puts forward the correct, dialectical view of the relation between the party and the masses, a relation in which the party is the leading force and the masses are the motive force.
The CRC document takes off from its distorted use of Stalin’s “in essence” statement to draw this conclusion:
“From this position, the nature and course of development of the bureaucratisation process and the emergence of new classes can easily be traced. Under such a political structure, the absence of a conscious policy to restrict bourgeois right and the increasing reliance on material incentive for promoting production laid the economic foundation for bureaucratic capitalism. And when we reach the stage of Mao’s finding that under the dictatorship of the proletariat the bourgeoisie emerges within the party itself, the picture becomes complete.” (par. 5.9, emphasis added)
This is opposed to the analysis Lenin made of the basis for “the emergence of new classes”, and in particular the bourgeoisie, under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin pointed to Soviet government employees and the strata of intellectual workers in general, as well as to the persistence of small-scale production, as main sources of a new bourgeoisie; but his analysis was rooted in a materialist estimate of the social and class contradictions remaining in socialist society—it did not look for the source or origins of the new bourgeoisie in “the bureaucracy” as such. Lenin was right—on the right track—the CRC document is completely off.
As noted earlier, Mao developed Lenin’s beginning analysis of this problem more fully, into a comprehensive line. The CRC document puts forward an “inversion” of this line—and of reality. It does not proceed from the underlying contradictions in the economic base (the remaining differences and inequalities, the persistence of commodity relations, etc.)—in the context of the international situation—and then examine the superstructure (in particular the governing institutions and ideas) in that light, but in fact proceeds from a distorted analysis of contradictions in the superstructure and superimposes this on the economic base. It reverses the relation of politics and economics, the relation between the superstructure and the economic base. It may seem superficially similar to the Maoist analysis but is actually the opposite of it: it is idealist while the Maoist method is materialist. It makes bureaucratic deviations—some real, many invented in this document—the basis for, or the essential factor in creating, the “economic foundation” of “bureaucratic capitalism”.
This idealist viewpoint on the basis for the engendering of the new bourgeoisie in socialist society and the danger of capitalist restoration is repeated a number of times in the CRC document, including in the remarkable assertion that:
“he [Lenin] comes to the solution of replacing dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat by simply reversing the dictatorship of the minority over the majority into a dictatorship of the majority over the minority. Hence no qualitative break with the old structure is required. Ultimately, the old structure which concentrates political power in the hands of the state leadership, leads to the emergence and strengthening of a new ruling class from among the working class and the ranks and leadership of its party itself.” (par. 9.2, emphasis added)
Here it can be seen even more clearly how the CRC document treats the superstructure—actually a distorted view of the superstructure in socialist society—as the decisive element in “the emergence and strengthening of a new ruling class”.
Mao rejected the mechanical materialist “theory of productive forces”, which sees the productive forces and the economic base of society as determinant in some kind of absolute way—which does not recognize the dynamic role of the superstructure in reacting back upon the economic base nor the role of revolution in the superstructure and the relations of production in unleashing and developing the productive forces. But Mao opposed this mechanical materialism with dialectical materialism—not with idealism6—not with a line that denies the ultimately decisive role of material reality and specifically of the economic base in relation to the superstructure in society. The CRC document, however, under the banner of opposing “the economic reductionist position” (par. 7.4), misconstrues Mao’s line and in fact denies the decisive role of economics in relation to politics (and we shall also see later how the CRC document further repudiates Marxist materialism in the name of rejecting “class reductionism”).
Again, the Maoist line identifies the essential material basis for capitalist restoration as residing in the remaining contradictions in the social relations, above all the production relations, within socialist society, as well as the international relations. It focuses on the superstructure fundamentally in relation to these contradictions. The line of this CRC document makes such contradictions in the economic base a secondary matter, subordinate to the supposedly decisive element: the existence of “such a political structure”, i.e., a dictatorship of the proletariat which is not based on formal democracy.
Next let’s turn to the discussion in the CRC document about the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin and how Trotsky’s criticisms failed to “answer any of the basic questions faced by the dictatorship of the proletariat” but incidentally—and it is treated as incidentally—Stalin was right in the “major controversy” with Trotsky about the possibility of building socialism in one country. (See par. 5.10)
But how could Stalin have been correct—how could he have led in the building of socialism in the Soviet Union—if he was responsible (more than anyone else) for imposing a dictatorship of the party over the masses? What kind of socialism can be built under such a dictatorship? Or perhaps there never was any socialist society established in the Soviet Union? Or in China either, following the same logic. Then what was the economic base of these countries? Capitalist all along? Or something else—in which case you end up with the same basic analysis of Trotsky after all.
Once again, this whole line of argument metaphysically treats the relation of economics and politics, the base and the superstructure, although there is a certain “consistency” to it: if this line were applied, it would lead to both the economic base and the superstructure being dominated by the bourgeoisie. Perhaps ironically, this line seeks to replace the basic revisionist formula—state ownership plus the institutionalized leading role of the party guarantees or equals socialism—with the formula: mass democracy, on the strict Paris Commune model, plus the “traditional Marxist-Leninist” approach to socialist economics, is the basis for preventing capitalist restoration. Neither of these formulas is “better” than the other—they are both wrong.
For all the reasons that have been previously discussed, the abandonment of the institutionalized leading role of the party will lead to capitalist restoration just as much as the insistence that this institutionalized leading role will in and of itself guarantee against capitalist restoration, regardless of the line of the party in relation to the actual material contradictions faced by the dictatorship of the proletariat, both within the particular country and internationally. Here it is important to recall what was said earlier: if the party does not play such an institutionalized leading role, some other force will, in fact bourgeois cliques, and they will institutionalize the rule of the bourgeoisie. This is owing to the underlying contradictions of socialist society, and under these kinds of conditions it is not possible for the formal structures of the Paris Commune to be implemented in every detail, and if they are, as Mao said, it will make too much room for the bourgeoisie, which will come to dominate them and dominate all of society.
Let’s move on to this document’s summation of what it calls Rosa Luxemburg’s “piercing criticism” of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union (see section 6). According to Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks were fundamentally wrong, because like Kautsky, they “‘oppose dictatorship to democracy’”. And, argues Luxemburg, the Bolshevik position is “‘far removed from a genuine socialist policy’”—she actually says that the Bolsheviks “‘decide in favour of dictatorship in contradistinction to democracy, and thereby in favour of dictatorship of a handful of persons, that is, in favour of dictatorship on the bourgeois model’”. (Luxemburg, as cited in the CRC document, par. 6.1, from Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York, 1970, p. 393, emphasis added) This is yet again the “classical outlook” of the petit bourgeois who stands midway between the bourgeois and the proletarian and recognizes in the dictatorship of both a subordination of petit-bourgeois interest to the interests of the ruling class, but who does not readily recognize the fundamental difference between these two dictatorships.
The CRC document continues with its presentation of Luxemburg’s “piercing criticism” as follows:
“She observed that, the model of dictatorship of the proletariat established under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky [sic], after the October Revolution, was actually trying to eliminate democracy as such, in the name of ‘the cumbersome nature of democratic electoral bodies’.... ‘To be sure every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure: for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come the correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.’... Opposing Lenin’s claim that the Soviet system of proletarian democracy is a million times better than bourgeois democracy, she [Luxemburg] evaluated the situation under the dictatorship of the proletariat practised by Bolsheviks thus: ‘In place of the representative bodies created by general popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the Soviets as the only true representation of the labouring masses. But with the repression of political life in the land as a whole, life in the Soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule.’” (par. 6.2, 6.4.; the citation in the CRC document for the statements by Rosa Luxemburg is: Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 387, 391)
This is a social-democratic line which—despite Luxemburg’s attempt to distinguish her position from bourgeois democracy—perfectly exposes the fact that such a position conforms to the bourgeois-democratic outlook. The masses of people in the Soviet Union, at that time especially—the early years of the Soviet Republic—were certainly energetically, actively, and consciously involved in political life, on a broader and deeper scale than anything history had witnessed up to that time. And Luxemburg’s argument is in no way a refutation of Lenin’s assessment that the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was practised in the Soviet Republic, was “a million times more democratic”—for the masses of people—than any bourgeois-democratic state. To argue otherwise, as Luxemburg does, and to declare that the Bolsheviks were seeking to stifle the political activism of the masses and to eliminate “democracy as such”, betrays an outlook that identifies the political activism of the masses with the strictures of bourgeois-democratic formalism and identifies “democracy as such” with democracy as practised according to bourgeois-democratic principles. And this is precisely what Luxemburg does with her emphasis on “representative bodies created by general popular elections”—in opposition, let it be noted, to “the Soviets as the only true representation of the labouring masses”—and her calls for “unrestricted” freedom of press and assembly.
The CRC document even goes so far as to say that, “The basic defect of the Soviet system”—note well: the “basic defect”—“is exposed by Rosa in this way: ‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party, however, numerous they may be—is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for one who thinks differently.’” (par. 6.3., citing Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 389-90)
First, it is distortion and slander to say that there was freedom only for those who supported the government and the Bolsheviks. It is true—and it is right—that counterrevolutionary forces were suppressed, particularly when they rose in arms against the Soviet government. There was, for example, the famous incident of the Kronstadt rebellion in which, as Lenin frankly acknowledged, there were masses involved; but, as he put it, before long the intrigues of the old whiteguard generals (that is, the old generals of the counterrevolutionary army that had waged the civil war against the proletarian regime) came out into the open in relation to the Kronstadt events, as did the imperialist connections of these whiteguard generals. It became clear that the Kronstadt revolt represented an attempt to overthrow the proletarian regime and restore the old order. So, naturally and correctly, people participating in such reactionary revolts were suppressed. (See “Tenth Congress of the R.C.P. (B.), March 8-16, 1921”, part 2, “Report on the Political Work of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.), March 8”, LCW, vol. 32, pp. 183-85)
But there was plenty of criticism raised, and “allowed”, of the government and the Party. This is very clear, among other things, in reading Lenin’s writings and speeches from these years of the new Soviet Republic. Lenin talks openly about how they are existing in a petit-bourgeois atmosphere, and that they have to learn how to find some form of accommodation with the petit-bourgeois strata, particularly among the peasantry, without compromising away the basic interests of the proletariat. He discusses the whole problem in historical terms—how you can expropriate and crush the resistance of the big bourgeoisie and landlords relatively quickly once you’ve seized power, but you have to carry out a policy of long-term co-existence and struggle with all the small-scale producers and generally with the petite bourgeoisie—as he puts it, you have to both live with and transform the petite bourgeoisie, in its material conditions and in its outlook, as part of advancing toward the elimination of class distinctions (such a discussion can be found, for example, in Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, which was written in the first few years of the Soviet Republic). So Lenin’s writings and speeches from those years—including, incidentally, some that are quoted, in a distorted way, in this CRC document itself—make very clear what Lenin’s basic approach was, and that his was not an orientation that anyone who raised criticism of the government and the Bolsheviks should be suppressed and denied political rights.
Instead of seriously grappling with what Lenin has to say about these difficult contradictions, the CRC document looks to Rosa Luxemburg’s misguided criticisms for guidance. Much of what is mistaken about these criticisms, and their underlying orientation, is revealed in the statement by Luxemburg that freedom is “always and exclusively freedom for one who thinks differently”. This, of course, is linked to Luxemburg’s call for “unrestricted” freedom of press and assembly, etc. And this is in line with classical bourgeois democracy, which identifies freedom with the rights of the minority against “the tyranny of the majority”. For example, this is very similar to the formulations of people like John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville in their writings on democracy and on individual liberty. In response to this, the question must be posed: who is it that, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, “thinks differently” most of all—if not the bourgeoisie and counterrevolutionaries? I am not being facetious: the “logical conclusion of the logic” of Luxemburg here is that they, above all, should be granted freedom, full political rights. And then where is the dictatorship of the proletariat?7
It is very instructive to contrast Rosa Luxemburg’s statements on what freedom is, “always and exclusively”, with the profound statements of Mao Tsetung on what constitutes the freedom, or the fundamental rights, of the labouring people in a socialist society: the right to control society, the right to be masters of the economy, the right to control and suppress the antagonistic forces that are trying to restore capitalism, the right to exercise their rule in all spheres of the superstructure. Everything flows from this freedom, or these fundamental rights, as discussed by Mao. This represents something much more profound and correct than Luxemburg’s definition of freedom—in fact it is the opposite of Luxemburg’s democratic formalism—it speaks to the essence of the matter:
“Who is in control of the organs [of power] and enterprises bears tremendously on the issue of guaranteeing the people’s rights. If Marxist-Leninists are in control, the rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed. If rightists or right opportunists are in control, these organs and enterprises may change qualitatively, and the people’s rights with respect to them cannot be guaranteed. In sum, the people must have the right to manage the superstructure.” (Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, New York: Monthly Review, 1977, p. 61, emphasis added)
Here Mao, like Lenin before him, puts forward the correct, the materialist and dialectical, view of the relationship between the exercise by the masses of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of their communist vanguard.
Let’s move on to the next point that needs to be addressed in this CRC document: “But in spite of all these major breakthroughs, it can be seen now, that the New Democratic Peoples Dictatorship established immediately after the completion of revolution in China or the dictatorship of the proletariat which followed, did not mark any significant advancement from the basic framework developed by Lenin and Stalin.” (par. 7.2)
To this, considering the spirit and thrust of the CRC document, one can only respond: “Thank god!” By now it should be clear that the “significant advancement” the authors of this document find lacking is in fact the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the adoption in its place of models based on the “piercing criticism” of people like Luxemburg and her exposure of the “basic defect of the Soviet system” in its departure from bourgeois-democratic formalism.
So let’s move on to another formulation in this document:
“The basic problems faced by the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, namely, the lack of a political system in which the people can directly participate and assert their political will, socialisation of means of production leading to centralisation and the accompanying bureaucratisation of the whole system, were all manifested in China also. Hence, the same process of capitalist restoration which had already reached an advanced stage in the Soviet Union had started in China also.” (par. 7.3)
Class Struggle Under Socialism and Forms of Mass Rule
Having already spoken a number of times and from various angles to this document’s fundamentally wrong analysis of the political system and its relation to the economic system in the Soviet Union (and socialist society generally), I will only call attention here to the word “Hence” that begins the last sentence above. This “Hence” represents the continuation of the idealist and metaphysical treatment of the relation of economics and politics that was pointed to earlier, particularly in criticizing the CRC document’s “inverted analysis” of the basis for capitalist restoration. Once again, this “Hence” is hardly how Mao identified the basis and process of the engendering of the bourgeoisie in socialist society and the danger of capitalist restoration.
Indeed, another expression of the idealism reflected in the use here of “Hence” is its implication that capitalist restoration resulted primarily from the mistaken orientation and policies of the revolutionaries, in China as well as in the Soviet Union; whereas, in reality, the danger of capitalist restoration was rooted in the underlying contradictions marking socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, and the triumph of the capitalist-roaders was the outcome of the class struggle, both within the socialist countries themselves and internationally. The viewpoint of the CRC document on this decisive question echoes the loud proclamations these days about the “failure” of communism, rather than recognizing that what has happened in the Soviet Union and China represents, in its essence, defeats inflicted on the international proletariat by the international bourgeoisie, and that the mistakes of the revolutionaries were secondary and mainly mistakes in dealing with the very real problems and dangers caused primarily by imperialism and its still dominant position in the world.8 Such defeats are, from the standpoint of historical materialism, not surprising, particularly in the early stages of the conflict between proletarian revolution and bourgeois counterrevolution; the point is to learn from all such defeats—to learn well the real lessons—in order to be able, time and again, to turn temporary setbacks into new and still greater breakthroughs, and to advance through the course of the ongoing historic battle to final victory.
But this cannot be done if the real terms of the struggle are not understood and an idealist interpretation is imposed on reality, as the CRC document does in the following:
“Actually he [Mao] was coming closer to the crux of the problem when he identified the areas of struggle in the superstructure, and in the relations of production. Similarly he recognised the fact that political power was not in the hands of the working class and other toiling masses of the people. Here he identified the crux of the matter—how to bring political power into the hands of the people.” (par. 7.4)
Wrong! Mao recognized and said that important parts of the superstructure were not in the hands of the masses, and he called on them to seize back those portions of power that had been usurped by capitalist-roaders. But he never said that these capitalist-roaders had usurped supreme power, that political power over society as a whole was not in the hands of the proletariat. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a revolution carried out in a situation where the proletariat held state power but faced a life-and-death struggle to prevent the rise to power of revisionism and capitalist restoration—it was the continuation of the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The “16-Point Decision” issued in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution as a general guideline for carrying out this revolutionary struggle makes this very clear. It says the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution “constitutes a new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country”; that, “Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a come-back” and that the proletariat must meet this challenge head-on. And what is identified as the objective of this Cultural Revolution? It is not to deal with a situation where the masses do not have political power but “to struggle against and overthrow those persons in power taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the bourgeois reactionary academic ‘authorities’ and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system”. (“Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, [“16-Point Decision”], August 8, 1966, Peking: FLP, point 1, p. 1, emphasis added)
And, in important discussions with Chang Chun-chiao during the height of the Cultural Revolution (discussions quoted from in this CRC document, in fact), Mao himself makes clear that:
“Our present revolution—the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—is a revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and we have launched it ourselves. This is because a portion of the structure of proletarian dictatorship has been usurped and no longer belongs to the proletariat, but to the bourgeoisie. Thus, we had to make revolution.” (“Directive on Great Cultural Revolution in Shanghai”, in Miscellany of Mao Tse-Tung Thought, published by Joint Publications Research Service, Arlington, Virginia, USA, vol. 2, p. 451, emphasis added)
This CRC document is doing a “two into one” here. It is trying to combine its wrong-headed line on “the dictatorship of the party” with Mao’s qualitatively different, and correct, analysis of the bourgeoisie within the party (the capitalist-roaders) and the need to wage struggle against these capitalist-roaders and to further revolutionize the party itself as part of the overall struggle to remain on the socialist road and continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.9
But this CRC document continues on superimposing its idealist vision on reality. It makes this assessment of the Cultural Revolution:
“As Mao himself pointed out it was actually the masses who developed the new form of struggle, the Cultural Revolution. It was actually a struggle against the structures of the bureaucratisation existing under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As it was a spontaneous outburst of the masses, the anarchic deviations it developed were quite natural. But what had to be done was to systematise all these lessons into a new political system and form of struggle to be practised under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But unfortunately, we cannot see any such positive development during Mao’s lifetime.” (par. 7.5)
Wrong again—incredibly wrong. To begin with, this is tailist and a worshipping of spontaneity. Ironically, this is the “flip side” (or “mirror opposite”) of the argument that is frequently made that all the Cultural Revolution represented was power struggles among elite cliques with the masses used as pawns. The Cultural Revolution was not “spontaneous”—the Cultural Revolution, like all great revolutionary undertakings, was in a fundamental sense the creation of the masses, but the masses were given leadership in this by a communist vanguard (recall how Mao says that “we have launched it ourselves”, referring to the proletarian headquarters in the Communist Party). Without this leadership there would not have been a Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—it would have been rather quickly suppressed, if it got off the ground at all, and certainly it would not have reached the heights and achieved the great transformations it did. The Cultural Revolution was the combination of the initiative of the masses with the leadership of a communist vanguard.
The authors of the CRC document don’t want to recognize this because it doesn’t fit in with their line of pitting the masses against the party—their line of declaring the party’s leadership in the dictatorship of the proletariat to be nothing but “the dictatorship of the party” over the masses. Hence their statement that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was “actually a struggle against the structures of the bureaucratisation existing under the dictatorship of the proletariat”. No, it was not “actually” that. It was actually what Mao said it was—a revolutionary struggle whose target was the Party persons in authority taking the capitalist road.
Let’s move on to how this CRC document characterizes Mao’s discussions with Chang Chun-chiao regarding the Shanghai Commune. The document says that, “As can be seen in Mao’s discussions with Chang Chun-chiao with regard to the Shanghai Commune, he had no new answer to the basic question which confronted them during the Cultural Revolution. Instead he went back to the theme of the party’s ultimate authority to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (par. 7.5)
Here the CRC document misses the whole point. The problem is not that Mao “had no new answer”—the problem is that the authors of this document don’t “get” Mao’s answer. Mao’s essential point was that under the conditions then prevailing in China, and with the international context in mind, the commune form that had been developed during the upsurge of the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai was not an appropriate form for the dictatorship of the proletariat at that point—it did not conform to the material conditions and in particular the relative strength of the opposing classes under the existing conditions. In other words, if they attempted to maintain the Shanghai Commune (and implement it throughout China), including a rather strict adherence to the model of the Paris Commune of 1871, then the counterrevolutionaries would be able either to outright overthrow proletarian rule or else make use of the commune form and turn it into its opposite, using it to actually usurp power from the masses and then suppress them. Again, this is because of the underlying contradictions in socialist society and because of the international situation.
This is the point of Mao’s analogy to the Paris Commune itself. He said that if the Paris Commune had not been crushed, it would have become a bourgeois commune. In other words, given the actual situation at that time, if the Paris Commune had lasted and the attempt had been made to maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat in that form, it would have been taken over from within by bourgeois forces.
Mao emphasizes, tellingly, that the essence of the matter lies not with the form but with the content. And he applies this to the experience of the Soviet Union:
“In regard to the form of soviet political power, as soon as it materialized, Lenin was elated, deeming it a remarkable creation by workers, peasants, and soldiers, as well as a new form of proletarian dictatorship. Nonetheless, Lenin had not anticipated then that although the workers, peasants and soldiers could use this form of political power, it could also be used by the bourgeoisie, and by Khrushchev. Thus, the present soviet has been transformed from Lenin’s soviet to Khrushchev’s soviet.” (Mao Miscellany, vol. 2, p. 452)
Here again, the authors of this CRC document actually quote this but they miss the whole point—they dismiss Mao’s profound historical observations as “Mao’s confusion”! (par. 7.5) It is not Mao but the authors of this CRC document who are, profoundly, confused. It seems they have become so blinded with bourgeois-democratic formalism, and bourgeois-democratic prejudice and illusions in general, that they really don’t understand that Mao is summing up the overall lesson that, so long as classes, and in particular the bourgeoisie, are around, then there is no form that, in itself, can constitute an impenetrable barrier against capitalist restoration. That the bourgeoisie can take over, and use for its own purposes, forms developed in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is why the essence (the principal aspect) of the matter is the content, not the form. This understanding of Mao’s is also reflected in his, unfortunately, prophetic observation: “If we should be overthrown and the bourgeoisie came to power, they would have no need to change the name, but would still call it the People’s Republic of China. The main thing is which class seizes political power. That is the fundamental question, not what its name is.” (Mao Miscellany, vol.2, p. 453)
These were the key points Mao was making in his discussions with Chang Chun-chiao: he was calling attention to the fact that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat can make use of the formal structures created under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that attention must be focused on the content—the class content—not the form; and, more specifically, he was saying that, under the conditions of that time, the adoption of the commune form would actually be more favourable for the bourgeoisie than the proletariat—it would weaken the proletariat in exercising its dictatorship and strengthen the hand of the bourgeoisie in overthrowing that dictatorship, or subverting it from within and turning it into its opposite. As a key part of this analysis, Mao particularly stressed that there has to be a vanguard leadership. He says, I don’t care if you call it a communist party, or by some other name, you’re still going to have a core of leadership.
This is not because Mao was determined to impose “the dictatorship of the party”, but fundamentally because of all the things that have been said here about the underlying contradictions involved in the transition from capitalism to communism worldwide and how the revolutionary energy and enthusiasm of the masses and the class struggle overall proceeds in waves, or through spirals, and not in a straight line. To reiterate this crucial point: these underlying contradictions in socialist society—particularly between mental and manual labour, but also between the city and countryside, and workers and peasants, and other such major social contradictions—will express themselves in the fact that there will be an objective difference between the advanced section of the class and the class as a whole. This, in turn, will express itself in the fact that there will be some kind or other of leading core—and if it is not a proletarian leading core, it will be a bourgeois one, whether openly or in “socialist” guise. This is related to the basic point that if a correct line is not in command, an incorrect line will be. And a correct line has to be consciously struggled for and applied. If you try to go about spontaneously exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat, you will hand things over to the bourgeoisie.
All this is why, as Mao says, there has to be a party as the leading core. And this is one of the essential reasons why, under the conditions of the time, the commune form would not work—would weaken the proletarian dictatorship and aid the bourgeoisie in outright overthrowing this dictatorship or taking it over from within.
To all this must be added the whole international situation: what institutions and measures are necessary to deal with the threat of imperialist attack, and how that interrelates with the existence of classes and class struggle within the socialist society and all the contradictions that have been talked about in this connection. Mao’s discussion of this question is based on a profound grasp of, and represents a profound grappling with, these questions. But the CRC document has “missed” all this and instead applies a shallow formalistic approach.
So, it is simplistic and misses the essence of the matter to say that Mao “went back to the theme of the Party’s ultimate authority to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat”. Mao definitely did continue to uphold the overall leading role of the Party, but at the same time he insisted that the Party itself had to be revolutionized as part of revolutionizing society as a whole. Even the way in which the Communist Party was reconstituted as a result of the upsurge of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution shows that Mao was striving to apply as far as possible the basic principles and spirit of the Paris Commune while recognizing that it was not possible to strictly apply many of the specific forms and policies of the Commune. The Party was reconstituted, from the basic levels on up, in an open-door way, through open mass meetings where people in the Party units to be reconstituted were subjected to the criticism and overall supervision of the masses. Once again, this was an application of the basic principles and spirit of the Paris Commune; it was an expression of the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat was being exercised by the masses with the leadership of the party.
As for mass forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Mao supported and popularized the revolutionary committee as the form most appropriate for leadership under the conditions of the time—and the revolutionary committees too, it should be pointed out, were fundamentally the creation of the masses, with the leadership of the proletarian headquarters in the Party. This form first arose out of the mass upsurge in the Northeast of China, particularly in Heilungkiang (Heilong Jiang) Province, and then this was summed up and popularized—and, yes, institutionalized—throughout society, on all levels. This was a “new thing” of great significance created through the Cultural Revolution: a way, as mentioned earlier, of combining the masses with leading cadres of the Party and state in actual forms of government and administration on all levels of Chinese society.
The conclusion the CRC document draws on this point reflects no understanding of all this. The document simply says:
“Mao’s main point is that what matters is not the form of the state structure but which class seizes power. This shows that Marx’s emphasis on the new form of state under the dictatorship of the proletariat was almost forgotten.” (par. 7.5, emphasis in original)
Shows this to whom?! It does not show this at all. Yet one more time, the authors of this CRC document have read (and even quoted) but not understood. On the contrary, what this experience really shows is that Mao in particular paid great attention to this question. While stressing that form in itself is not the essence of the matter, Mao at the same time paid great attention to the unity of the form and content of the dictatorship of the proletariat, especially to the development of new forms which increasingly enabled the masses to strengthen their rule in society—to exercise all-around dictatorship over the bourgeoisie and be the masters of the socialist economy.
It was Mao who earlier had led and supported the masses in the creation of the rural people’s communes, in the face of bitter opposition from the revisionists in Party leadership. The people’s communes, while not strictly following the Paris Commune model in every respect, applied basic principles of the Paris Commune. They were new forms of socialist production and social relations, and new transformations in the superstructure, which combined a further advance in public ownership in the economy with more advanced forms of administration involving the broad masses. More generally, Mao also summed up and popularized advanced experience in establishing, in both industry and agriculture, new forms of more advanced socialist production relations, new means of breaking down the old division of labour and involving the masses in management and administration while involving managers, administrators, and intellectual workers generally in productive labour together with the masses of working people. And, of course, all this took a still greater leap forward through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Ignoring this rich historical experience, the CRC document persists with its idealist formalism. A few pages later, it returns to and extends its misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, of the profound point Mao is actually making—the real lesson he is drawing—concerning the historical fact that Lenin’s Soviets were transformed into Khrushchev’s Soviets. The document actually argues that, “Mao had also not grasped the importance of a new political organisational structure” and that, in Mao’s view, “the discovery of Soviets was of no significance”. (par. 8.11)
This is unbelievable! As we have seen, this is not Mao’s point at all. And it is an irony worth noting that earlier the CRC document argued that the Soviets, once they came under institutionalized Party leadership, represented nothing qualitatively new, even though Lenin stressed that it was the Soviets, not the Party itself, that performed the functions of government and that the Soviets were “special institutions” of a “new type” (see CRC document, pars. 5.7-5.8). Now this CRC document attributes to Mao the argument that the Soviets represented nothing qualitatively new, when Mao is not saying anything of the kind and is making a completely different point.
Let’s look at the CRC document’s further evaluation of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution:
“The Cultural Revolution was possible only because of the leadership of Mao and it developed outside the existing political structure. Even though Mao had pointed out that many more Cultural Revolutions will be required during the whole period of socialism, it is quite clear that they are not going to continue in the absence of a system where such Cultural Revolutions are ensured. Mao and other socialist leaders in China could not develop or envisage such a system. What they tried was to establish an all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, using the same old framework of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such an approach appeared to be only more authoritarian, and even the anti-bureaucratic content of the Cultural Revolution was misrepresented in this context.” (par. 7.6)
This is yet more idealism and metaphysics. Given all that has been said here about the contradictory character of socialist society, how could there be such a “guarantee”—what formal institutions or procedures could “ensure” Cultural Revolutions, let alone their success? And we must ask: appeared “only more authoritarian” to whom—to which class? Here once again this document reveals its consistent tendency to tail after the most backward and particularly to pander to bourgeois-democratic prejudices and the bourgeois outlook generally—including, frankly, crude anti-communism. In fact, here this document more or less openly takes up the standpoint of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois intellectuals whom this authority was directed against and who chafed under this authority. In this context it is worth repeating Engels’s comments ridiculing the anarchists—comments that, interestingly, use the experience of the Paris Commune as a frame of reference and sum up the following lesson from that experience:
“Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie? Cannot we, on the contrary, blame it for having made too little use of that authority?” (cited in Lenin, The State and Revolution, LCW, vol. 25, pp. 442-43)
Of course, Engels had clearly in mind the class content of the dictatorship of the proletariat—he was not upholding authority in general or in the abstract but precisely the revolutionary authority of the proletariat—and the same applies to Mao and the other “socialist roaders” in China. They upheld and led in giving life and form to the exercise by the masses of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and those seeking the restoration of capitalism.10
The Problem of Bureaucracy, The Role of the Party and State Structures Under Socialism
Next, under the heading “Basic Error”, this document sets out “to find out where and how Lenin went wrong”. But this whole “discovery” only deepens the “basic error” that runs through this whole document. Not only do previous arguments in this document go from bad to worse, but new ones are introduced that represent an even more obvious departure—retreat—from Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. The remainder of this critique of the CRC document will focus primarily on these “new” arguments—which, as we shall see, are not really new at all.
The CRC document says: “In the political structure of the Paris Commune, the Communist Party was not having any direct role.” (par. 8.4)
To this, once again, with historical perspective, we can only say “Thank god!” By this I mean that, if any of the most influential forces within the Commune had played such a “direct” leadership role, this would have been leadership by a party that did not truly represent the proletariat. This is because the leading forces in the Commune were not really communists: they were socialists, but not scientific socialists. They were political opponents of Marx, and if the Commune had lasted longer and their leadership in it had been consolidated, this would have led to the restoration of capitalism anyway. Once again, the lack of a real, communist vanguard party was a fatal weakness of the Commune. This relates to the fundamental point about the limitation of the experience of the Paris Commune and how it is wrong to raise this very limited experience against the much greater experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat since—although in fact the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution upheld and applied the basic spirit and orientation that Marx identified in the Paris Commune.
Let’s move on to another statement in the CRC document:
“The absence of any mention of the role of the party in the whole scheme of the dictatorship of the proletariat as explained in The State and Revolution by Lenin is very conspicuous. It may be due to this influence of the political structure of the Paris Commune. But here, unlike in the Paris Commune, the Party was going to play the crucial role because by the time of the October Revolution, a party had already been developed as the vanguard representing the class interests of the proletariat. So this was the crucial theoretical question to be resolved during that period. Lenin’s total neglect of this question was a serious lapse leading to the basic error in developing the understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (par. 8.5)
It is true that, in The State and Revolution, Lenin was not addressing the question of the party’s role in the dictatorship of the proletariat. His object in writing The State and Revolution, in the period between the February 1917 bourgeois-democratic revolution and the October 1917 proletarian revolution, was to demonstrate the need for the violent overthrow of the bourgeois state, the smashing of the old state machine and the creation of a new kind of state—the dictatorship of the proletariat. This, and not the role of the party in the dictatorship of the proletariat, was the crucial theoretical question that had to be taken up right at that decisive moment.
The State and Revolution was a polemic against the opportunist “socialists” of the time (Kautsky being the most “prestigious” and influential) who were denying the need for violent revolution and proletarian dictatorship and were distorting the basic Marxist teaching on the state—that it is an instrument of class suppression, which arose with the development of class antagonisms and will itself be eliminated with the elimination of these antagonisms and of class distinctions generally through the revolution of the proletariat and its radical transformation of society and the state. In writing this polemic, Lenin was basing himself on what Marx and Engels had summed up from the only historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far, the Paris Commune. The question of the role of the vanguard communist party in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat had not yet come sharply into focus.
It is not inconceivable that on the basis of extrapolating from the experience of the Paris Commune—and specifically the fact that there was no real communist vanguard in the Commune—Lenin might have reached some conclusions about the need for the party to play a vanguard role not only in overthrowing the old state power but in creating and exercising the new. But to suggest that, because he did not do so in The State and Revolution, this represents some kind of “serious lapse” that led to a “basic error” is yet another example of idealist and metaphysical thinking.
It was precisely through the experience of the October Revolution and then the exercise of power by the proletariat that this question of the party’s leading role was brought to the fore. At that point, Lenin certainly did take up this question, in the realm of theory as well as practice, continuously over the next several years. His writings and speeches in this period (the first few years of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Republic and the last few years of Lenin’s life) are full of discussion of this question and a wrangling over the contradictions involved with this—in fact, earlier this CRC document cited some of these writings and speeches (of course in a distorted way in order to accuse Lenin of advocating the “dictatorship of the party” over the masses).11
The way this question actually arose illustrates the real relationship between practice and theory, and the fact that, as Lenin said, the most important function of theory is to address the pressing problems of the day, the actual theoretical problems thrown up by practice.
So let’s go on to another statement in the CRC document:
“After the seizure of power in October, the Congress of the Soviets became the formal authority of the new political power. But actually, the party was playing the crucial role in evolving all important policies and tactics behind the scene. In effect the party was controlling the Soviets, though its specific role in the new state structure was not defined.” (par. 8.6)
Here, disturbingly, we see the CRC document raising the spectre commonly raised by the bourgeoisie—the spectre of those sneaky communists with their hidden agendas! We also see this document once again putting forward its familiar bourgeois formalism (complaining that the formal structures of democracy were not really being adhered to), but now this is done in the name of opposing formalism (the Soviets were only the formal authority but the communists were actually controlling things behind the scene). In fact, this was not at all “behind the scene”. Earlier, this CRC document quoted Lenin saying that the Bolsheviks had “told the world” of the indispensable leading role of the party. The fact is that the Party’s role was being more and more clearly defined as the overall leading force in the dictatorship of the proletariat, in dialectical relation with the masses, who were mobilized to exercise this dictatorship. This is precisely how Lenin dealt with it in theory and in practice, and so too did Stalin, in the main, especially early on (recall Mao’s comment about how at first under Stalin’s leadership they had nothing to rely on but the masses and so Stalin demanded all-out mobilization of the party and the masses, although later, after they had made some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses).
The CRC document goes on to say:
“So, under the pressure of the circumstances, in the face of both external and internal threats, the party was forced to play the central role, relegating the Soviets to the background.” (par. 8.7)
Once again, it is a vulgarization and fundamentally wrong to say that the Soviets were “relegated to the background”. Even “under the pressure of the circumstances”, and with a necessary shift in the relative weight of the Soviets, in relation to other institutions—including especially the Party—in the administration of society and the overall exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat (as discussed earlier), the Soviets were still relied on to perform the functions of government, under the leadership of the Party, as Lenin said. But here it is necessary to return to the larger historical question concerning the role of soviets (and similar institutions and mass organizations) in the process of socialist revolution and the advance to communism.
Stalin, in a talk on the Chinese revolution, and specifically in answering a question about the formation and role of soviets in that revolution (this was in 1927, in the early stages of the Chinese revolution), discussed how soviets are “organs of an uprising against the existing power, organs of struggle for a new revolutionary power, organs of the new revolutionary power”. (Stalin, “Talk with Students of the Sun Yat-Sen University”, May 13, 1927, Eighth Question, in On the Opposition, Peking: FLP, p. 689) Without getting into the specific, and rather complicated, tactical questions that Stalin was speaking to, relating to the Chinese revolution in that period, there is an important, more universal question that Stalin is touching on. In the experience of the Bolshevik revolution (and this was also true of the Chinese revolution in those situations where soviets were set up), the soviets were brought into being in the course of mass upsurge, and for a period after the seizure of power12 they retained the same dynamism that had characterized them in this upsurge. But it was bound to be the case that this could not be sustained on the same level, in a sort of “linear” way for a protracted period of time.
This, too, is related to the points made earlier about the problem of maintaining the revolutionary energy and enthusiasm of the masses and how the class struggle and the revolutionary upsurges of the masses are bound to develop in wave-like or spiral manner in socialist society (as well as in capitalist society). This is bound to be reflected also in the degree of dynamism—or, at times, the relative lack of dynamism—of organs like the soviets under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The fact that, in the Soviet Union, the Soviets at any given time may not have had the same dynamism that they had during the period when the masses were rising up to seize power and then in the first years when they were beginning to exercise power—this is an expression of this objective wave-like development and not of sneaky and sinister attempts of the Bolsheviks to replace the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the party, as the CRC document alleges.
And, contrary to what this document says, Lenin did not make it a principle that “only the party”, and not the masses, “can exercise the dictatorship”. (par. 8.7) He grappled seriously with the problem of how to involve the masses in the administration of the state and how to combat bureaucratic tendencies that interfered with this. Again, his writings in the last few years of his life are full of grappling with this question, while at the same time he was forced to recognize that a bureaucracy of some kind or another could not be eliminated for a long time to come.
One of the most important ways in which Lenin led struggle against bureaucratization and the tendency for the Communist Party, as a party in power, to become corrupted was the campaign conducted to purge the Party of careerists—particularly of people who joined the Party when power had been consolidated and the Party was playing a leading role in the institutions of society, in the economic and political life of the country. Lenin insisted that the Party, especially now that it was the leading force of a proletariat in power, must continue to be made up of those who join it expecting and prepared for self-sacrifice in the interests of the proletariat. In 1921, in the period after the victorious civil war against home-grown reactionaries linked with a number of imperialist powers, Lenin said this about the purging of the Party:
“The purging of the Party has obviously developed into a serious and vastly important affair.
“In some places the Party is being purged mainly with the aid of the experience and suggestions of non-Party workers; these suggestions and the representatives of the non-Party proletarian masses are being heeded with due consideration. That is the most valuable and most important thing. If we really succeed in purging our Party from top to bottom in this way, without exceptions, it will indeed be an enormous achievement for the revolution.
“...the Party must be purged of those who have lost touch with the masses (let alone, of course, those who discredit the Party in the eyes of the masses). Naturally, we shall not submit to everything the masses say, because the masses, too, sometimes—particularly in time of exceptional weariness and exhaustion resulting from excessive hardship and suffering—yield to sentiments that are in no way advanced. But in appraising persons, in the negative attitude to those who have ‘attached’ themselves to us for selfish motives, to those who have become ‘puffed-up commissars’ and ‘bureaucrats’, the suggestions of the non-Party proletarian masses and, in many cases, of the non-Party peasant masses, are extremely valuable. The working masses have a fine intuition, which enables them to distinguish honest and devoted Communists from those who arouse the disgust of people earning their bread by the sweat of their brow, enjoying no privileges and having no ‘pull’.
“To purge the Party it is very important to take the suggestions of the non-Party working people into consideration. It will produce big results. It will make the Party a much stronger vanguard of the class than it was before; it will make it a vanguard that is more strongly bound up with the class, more capable of leading it to victory amidst a mass of difficulties and dangers.” (Lenin, “Purging the Party”, LCW, vol. 33, pp. 39-40, emphasis in original)
Such Party purges and other measures against bureaucratization adopted under Lenin’s leadership could not and did not, by themselves, solve the problem—they did not and could not resolve the underlying contradictions that gave rise to bureaucratization, to careerism among party and state officials, and so on. But these policies unmistakably show the determination of Lenin to combat such careerism and bureaucratization and any tendency to turn the party and state into their opposite—into instruments of dictatorship over the masses.
This problem required new innovations, new means and methods of struggle—and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was such a new innovation, such new means and methods of revolutionary struggle, under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But, as Mao said, one Cultural Revolution could not solve all the problems. Nor could it eliminate the objective wave-like character of the class struggle and mass upsurges. As Mao said, there will have to be many Cultural Revolutions along the road to the final achievement of communism, yet there cannot be Cultural Revolutions all the time. During those times when a Cultural Revolution is not possible, bureaucratic tendencies must be combated and, more fundamentally, the means must be found for mobilizing the conscious activism of the masses to the maximum degree possible. But none of this can provide an iron-clad guarantee against capitalist restoration or change the fact that there will be periods in which the revolutionary “tenseness” and initiative of the masses is not at a high peak, even in socialist society.
Related to this is the approach of the party, as the leading force in the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the question of dissent and the clash of opinions, both within its own ranks and generally in society. In “End/ Beginning” and in a number of other works, following Mao I have stressed the importance of allowing, even encouraging, these things under the dictatorship of the proletariat as a general principle. But, at the same time, it must be recognized that this question, too, cannot be dealt with in the abstract, formalistically, according to some notion of “pure” or “classless” democracy—it, too, will be decisively influenced by the actual conditions and in particular the class relations and class struggle, both within the socialist society and internationally.
Sometimes it will be possible—it will conform to the interests of the proletariat—to “open wide” in terms of such debate, dissent, etc., and the party must not hesitate to seize on such opportunities to “open wide”; at other times, it will be necessary to “close ranks” more and carry out ideological struggle, debate and so on in a more restricted way, and the party must also not hesitate to adopt this approach when it is required by the conditions at hand. Yet, through all this, the guiding principle must be that the forms must be found, both within the party and among the broad masses, for debate, dissent, ideological struggle and so on—forms appropriate to the conditions and corresponding to the interests of the proletariat in the given situation; and every opportunity should be seized to “open wide” to the greatest degree possible consistent with the interests of the proletariat—with the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the masses and the continuation of the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the leadership of the vanguard communist party.
This must be done even though it is bound to involve risking a lot and repeatedly upsetting the established order under socialism—it must be done in a way that does not strengthen but undermines the basis for the old, capitalist order to be restored. This relates back to “the positive side of unresolved contradictions under socialism” and to the related principle that:
“The party in socialist society must act as the vanguard not only in terms of being a party in power but also in terms of actively involving itself in and leading—actually unleashing and winning leadership of—mass struggle in opposition to those aspects of the status quo which at any given time have become obstacles to the further revolutionization of society, which stand in opposition to the new revolutionary forces being brought forward. In short, be a party in power and a vanguard of revolutionary struggle against any parts of power that are blocking the road to complete liberation.” (Avakian, “A Final Note”, Revolution, Fall 1990, p. 46, emphasis in original)
All this involves profound questions that must be grappled with—but, again, they must be seriously grappled with from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and its summation of the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat, not on the basis of repudiating this and looking for “simple answers” that pit the party against the masses in what is, frankly, a classical anti-communist manner. What the Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement emphasizes is all the more important in light of recent world events:
“The summation of historical experience has, itself, always been a sharp arena of class struggle. Ever since the defeat of the Paris Commune, opportunists and revisionists have seized upon the defeats and shortcomings of the proletariat to reverse right and wrong, confound the secondary with the principal, and thus conclude that the proletariat ‘should not have taken to arms’. The emergence of new conditions has often been used as an excuse to negate fundamental principles of Marxism under the signboard of its ‘creative development’. At the same time, it is incorrect and just as damaging to abandon the Marxist critical spirit, to fail to sum up the shortcomings as well as the successes of the proletariat, and to rest content with upholding or reclaiming positions considered correct in the past. Such an approach would make Marxism-Leninism brittle and unable to withstand the attacks of the enemy and incapable of leading new advances in the class struggle—and suffocate its revolutionary essence.
“In fact, history has shown that real creative developments of Marxism (and not phoney revisionist distortions) have always been inseparably linked with a fierce struggle to defend and uphold basic principles of Marxism-Leninism. Lenin’s two-fold struggle against the open revisionists and against those, like Kautsky, who opposed revolution under the guise of ‘Marxist orthodoxy’ and Mao Tsetung’s great battle to oppose the modern revisionists and their negation of the experience of building socialism in the USSR under Lenin and Stalin while carrying out a thorough and scientific criticism of the roots of revisionism are evidence of this.
“Today a similar approach is necessary to the thorny questions and problems of the history of the international communist movement.” (RIM Declaration, p. 13)
Unfortunately, the CRC document departs from and goes in opposition to this correct approach. And, in insisting on “Two practical steps taken by the Paris Commune...a political system run through revocable agents of power and the replacement of the standing army by the armed people”; in claiming to dig deeper from this perspective into the “dynamics” of political power (pars. 8.9-8.10), this document descends more fully into a bourgeois standpoint. It begins with this characterization of the nature of the state:
“In a class society, the dominant class wields political power claiming to represent the whole society. This reflects a contradiction between the political will of the ruling class and that of the society as a whole. It is to resolve this contradiction that power is concentrated in the state structure and wielded by the ruling class as its executive power. So this concentration of the political will of the ruling class in the name of the political will of the whole society, in the concrete form of the state, especially in its armed might, is characteristic of the political power so far existing in class society.” (par. 8.10., emphasis added)
This is an incorrect characterization of the contradictions involved and the essence of the matter. The wielding of political power by the dominant class is not fundamentally or essentially aimed at resolving the “contradiction between the political will of the ruling class and that of the society as a whole”. Fundamentally and in essence, it is aimed at dealing with the contradiction—the antagonism—between that dominant class and the class (or classes) over which it must exercise dictatorship in order to maintain its dominant position in society. And this is rooted, not in an abstract conflict of “political wills”, but in underlying material conditions—the conflict of class interests corresponding to certain definite material relations of production. As Raymond Lotta has incisively summarized it:
“The state is an objective structure of society whose character is determined not by the class origins of its leading personnel but by the specific social division of labour of which it is an extension and the production relations which it must ultimately serve and reproduce.” (Lotta, “Realities of Social-Imperialism Versus Dogmas of Cynical Realism: The Dynamics of the Soviet Capital Formation”, in The Soviet Union: Socialist or Social Imperialist? Part 2: The Question Is Joined, Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983, p. 41, emphasis added)
As opposed to this, the CRC document’s presentation of this question—focusing on the “contradiction between the political will of the ruling class and that of the society as a whole”—is an idealist one that leads in the direction of covering over the class nature of the state (and, as we shall see, this is exactly the direction in which this document is heading). The document continues this presentation as follows:
“The proletariat is aiming at qualitatively breaking with this structure. It must initiate a process which makes the society as a whole capable of reabsorbing this concentrated power. And the replacement of the standing army by the armed people is a concrete initial step in this direction. But in the absence of a complete economic, political, social system which guarantees this reabsorption, this alone will not serve the purpose. In the whole process, conditions and structures should be created so that the (political) will of the whole society can get expressed and realised directly without the mediation of a state. It is only then that the proletariat can achieve its goal of a society where the state withers away. If the proletariat cannot put forward such an alternative political system, it cannot make any qualitative break with the existing bourgeois system.” (par. 8.10)
To begin with the last part here, this is a continuation of an idealist and metaphysical “inversion” on the relation of economics and politics as well as an application of metaphysics and idealism with regard to politics itself—in particular the state. All this leaves out the decisive question of the transformation of the economic base in terms of making a “qualitative break with the existing bourgeois system”—it separates the question of “bringing forward an alternative political system” from the economic base, or at the very least takes no account of the question of transforming the economic base and how this interacts with the creation of a new kind of state, which in turn will lead to the withering away of the state. In passing, it refers to “a complete economic, political, social system which guarantees this reabsorption”, but then it focuses primary and overwhelming attention on the question of the political system, rather than focusing on the underlying material conditions and discussing the political system in this context—in dialectical relation with the underlying and ultimately decisive economic conditions.
As for its formulation that, “In the whole process, conditions and structures should be created so that the (political) will of the whole society can get expressed and realised directly without the mediation of a state”: this leaves out of the picture something very decisive that will characterize this “whole process”—namely the existence of classes and class struggle, above all the antagonistic contradiction and struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but also the contradiction and struggle between the workers and peasants, between the working people and intellectuals, and other social contradictions which reflect class contradiction or contain the seeds of class contradiction and even class antagonism.
It is true that, with the achievement of communism, involving revolutionary transformation of both the economic base and the superstructure, the political and administrative system that will then exist will in fact express the will of society as a whole—although not without contradictions. However, the process of achieving communism cannot be conceived of as though it occurs, not through revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat to resolve profound social contradictions and class conflicts, but through the more or less linear and evolutionary development of structures that express “the political will of the whole society” and “the reabsorption of state power by the whole society”. (par. 10.3)
Next we are told that “the whole system of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far practised, starting from Lenin and up to Mao, failed” (par. 8.11), because it did not put forward the CRC document’s version of an “alternative political system” and did not conform to this document’s vision of how to bring about the withering away of the state (or “the reabsorption of state power by the whole society”). To this, once again, we can say “thank god!” If, in reality, this “whole system of the dictatorship of the proletariat so far practised” had attempted to carry out the line of this CRC document, this proletarian dictatorship would have been undermined and overthrown far more rapidly than it was, and the international proletariat would have been robbed of a whole historical experience rich in real lessons. And we can add that we wish this proletarian dictatorship had “failed” the CRC document’s test even more thoroughly—or, to put it positively, that it had succeeded not only as far as it did in preventing the rise to power of the bourgeoisie but beyond that and down to the present time.
To restate and re-emphasize the crucial point and the crucial difference between Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the social-democratic line of this CRC document on the question of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular: This document acts as if, once you have the dictatorship of the proletariat, the essential thing in the advance to communism is the extension of democracy—formal democracy. In reality, the essential thing is the class struggle—this is the key link, as Mao made clear.
Formulations which are in some ways similar, on the surface, to some of what is said in this CRC document on “the reabsorption of state power by the whole society” can be found in Marx and Engels (and Lenin), but this document misses (or dismisses) the essence: the state arises on the basis of the split-up of society into antagonistic classes and it exists as the organ of one class—the economically dominant class—in suppressing others: it is an instrument of class dictatorship. This is spelled out very clearly and fully by Engels in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State”: “The state, then, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split.” (Engels, “Origin”, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works [MESW], Moscow: Progress Publishers, vol. 3., p. 330) And, the state, wherever it exists and whatever the form of government, is “essentially a machine for keeping down the oppressed, exploited class”. (ibid., p. 332)
“Society as a whole” has no “political will”—certainly not in class society. Classes can be said to have “political will”; and, once again, state power (dictatorship) is exercised by the dominant class in order to deal with the contradiction between the “political will”—or, more fundamentally, the objective class interest—of the dominant class and that of the classes it exploits and oppresses.
Here an essential point to focus on is the fact that the most concentrated expression of state power is the armed force of the state and the fact that, so long as there is a state—so long, in other words, as society is divided into classes—the armed forces will represent one class or another. Such armed forces cannot represent “the whole people” or “the society as a whole” without class distinction. Under the conditions of socialism—which is not only a class society but a society marked by antagonistic class divisions—calls for abolishing the standing (full-time, professional) army and replacing it by the arming of “the whole people” amount to calling for the abolition of the proletariat’s monopoly of armed force, which in turn amounts to calling for the abolition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Once more, this is because the fundamental contradictions marking socialist society as a transition from capitalism to communism constitute a material basis for the continuing existence of classes and specifically the continual regeneration of the bourgeoisie, the continual engendering of the new bourgeoisie, both from among the functionaries of the party and state apparatus and from among the ranks of the people generally. In this situation, the abolition of a standing army under the leadership of the party of the proletariat (its single communist vanguard party)13 and its replacement by the arming of “the whole people” would result, in reality, in the development of different armed forces representing different classes, including the bourgeoisie. And this would be the case even if the overthrown ruling classes and their (open) supporters were excluded from the category of “the whole people” that is to be armed in place of the standing army of the proletarian state. The armed forces of the proletariat would be undermined and weakened; and the strength, including the armed strength, of other class forces, including bourgeois forces aiming at capitalist restoration, would be built up. In fact, in such a situation it would be impossible for the proletariat to retain state power and continue the advance toward communism. And this can be seen to be all the more the case when it is kept in mind that “domestic” counterrevolutionaries would invariably seek out alliances with foreign imperialist powers and other reactionary states. Thus, the abolition of a full-time, highly trained armed force of the proletarian state would fatally cripple it in the battle against imperialist aggression and against the forces of capitalist restoration within the socialist country itself.
This, of course, does not mean that it is unimportant to arm the broad masses under socialism and that the standing army can be relied on by itself to safeguard the rule of the proletariat. In fact, both from the point of view of combating armed counterrevolutionary attacks (and imperialist aggression) and from the point of view of carrying out the revolutionary transformation of society toward the abolition of class divisions (and, with them, the state), it is necessary and vital to have a situation in which the broad masses are “in arms” and, more than that, are organized and trained, in a vast people’s militia, alongside the standing army of the proletarian state (until such time as the standing army can be abolished).
But the decisive question, both with regard to the standing army and with regard to the people’s militia, is whether the guns are in the hands of the masses in actual fact and not just formally. This question hinges on the nature of leadership that is exercized in the standing army and the militia. And, in turn, the nature of this leadership finds concentrated expression in line—both ideological and political line in its general expression and also its expression in concrete policies. This involves the internal relations within the armed forces (including the militia) and the relations between these armed forces and the masses of people; it also involves the formulation of the fundamental purpose and aim of these armed forces and the principles of fighting, doctrine, and so on that flow from this.
In all this, the recognition of class differences among the people and the insistence on the leading role of the proletariat and its vanguard party, as concentrated in its line and policies, is decisive. It is this—it is the consistent application of this approach and the continual struggle focusing on line—which is decisive in determining whether or not the armed forces of the proletarian state represent the armed power of the masses acting in accordance with the revolutionary interests of the proletariat.
Liquidating Class Analysis in the Name of Opposing “Class Reductionism”
This is clearly not the standpoint of the CRC document. This document obscures the class nature of the state. In fact, its analysis of the state and the process of the withering away of the state (“the reabsorption of state power by the whole society”) involves a fundamental distortion concerning not only the proletarian state but the bourgeois state as well. Under the heading “Bourgeois Dictatorship and Proletarian Democracy”, we are offered this (re)evaluation:
“It was absolutely correct on the part of Lenin to evaluate that all different forms of bourgeois states are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and that all the different possible forms of transitional proletarian state are essentially the dictatorship of the proletariat. But this aspect of dictatorship is only the essential part, not the whole of it. A bourgeois democratic state deals with an important question of human society, the contradiction between individual and society. But a bourgeois fascist state does not give room for dealing with that contradiction at the same level, even though both are essentially dictatorships of the bourgeoisie. For the first time in the history of the human society bourgeois democracy recognises the individual as a political entity and gives him/her a role in the political system, though formally. The weakness of this bourgeois democracy is that it is based on the rule of private property whereby it ensures the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Thus the equality professed by it becomes not only formal, but also bogus.”14 (par. 9.1)
First of all, to critique bourgeois democracy in terms of its “weakness”, in the way this CRC document does, is itself quite revealing! But beyond that, it is imprecise and incorrect to simply say that bourgeois democracy is “based on the rule of private property”. It is based on the rule of bourgeois property. This might seem like a minor, even insignificant, point—and in other contexts it might be—but in the context of the CRC document’s attempt to obscure the class basis and nature of bourgeois democracy, it is necessary to insist on this point and to explore its further implications. Bourgeois property involves, in its essence, the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels emphasized exactly this point in the Communist Manifesto. They showed how “modern bourgeois private property...is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few”; and they stressed that, for the communists, abolition of private property means abolition of these relations and conditions—it must be understood “In this sense”. (Manifesto of the Communist Party, Peking: FLP, pp. 50, 51)
Private property in general does not necessarily involve this class antagonism. As a general category, private property includes articles of personal consumption and not just private ownership of the means of production. The former (personal consumption articles) do not in themselves involve relations of exploitation; and, for that matter, individual (private) ownership of the means of production does not necessarily involve such relations either (for example, farmland owned and worked by an individual farmer). As Marx and Engels make clear, it is bourgeois private property (along with other antagonistic property relations, such as feudalism and slavery) that involve these relations of exploitation and class antagonism; and while communism aims to abolish all private ownership of the means of production, and in fact all commodity production, it draws a clear distinction between various kinds of private property.15 To simply use the general characterization “private property” here—to simply say that bourgeois democracy is “based on the rule of private property”—is to help conceal the fundamental class antagonism of capitalist society—an antagonism which, as we know, is also covered over by the formal aspect of the relation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in capitalist production (it appears to be a relation based on the equal exchange of wages for labour-power, while in fact it is a relation of exploitation).
The open hosannas to bourgeois democracy in this passage in the CRC document are rather remarkable (“For the first time in the history of the human society bourgeois democracy recognises the individual as a political entity and gives him/her a role in the political system, though formally”); and it is important to note how bourgeois fascism is contrasted here with bourgeois democracy to make the latter seem even more attractive. Once again, what we have is a distortion that covers over or seeks to mitigate the class antagonism involved in bourgeois democracy.
This whole thing is marked by familiar revisionist eclectics—on the one hand bourgeois-democratic states “are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” but on the other hand they recognize the individual as a “political entity” and give him/her “a role in the political system, though formally”. The CRC document does acknowledge (“though formally”) that this character of all bourgeois states as dictatorships is the essence of the matter, but then, applying its eclectic method, it makes this essence non-essential. It focuses on “the contradiction between individual and society” and in fact places this on an equal level with—or, really, above—the essential fact that all forms of bourgeois states are dictatorships. Let’s look at this more closely.
As a matter of fact, all states, and not just the bourgeois-democratic state, deal in one way or another not only with classes but with individuals. In this connection it is important to recall the earlier point about how the dictatorship of the proletariat itself involves an aspect of coercion even toward individuals among the masses who, collectively, are exercising that dictatorship. All states—all dictatorships—uphold the general interests of the ruling class, first of all and essentially against the classes antagonistically opposed to the ruling class, but also against particular interests of members of the ruling class where and insofar as these come into conflict with the general ruling class interests.
It is true that bourgeois democracy does proclaim the rights of individuals in new and different ways from previous forms of the state, but once again it must be stressed that Engels’s analysis that the state arises with the emergence of class antagonisms and that in essence all states are an instrument of class suppression certainly applies as much to the bourgeois-democratic state as to any other state. However, the CRC document explicitly attempts to divorce the relation of the individual to the state in bourgeois-democratic society from class relations and class dictatorship. Thus, we are told that “by equating bourgeois democracy to bourgeois state”, Lenin has “neglected the non-class aspect of democracy reflected in the bourgeois democracy. The recognition of the individual’s political role in the political system of a society is actually a historical advance in dealing with the non-class contradiction of individual/ society.” (par. 9.2)
In exposing “how Kautsky turned Marx into a common liberal”—how Kautsky tried to make it seem that Marx did not really mean it when he spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for that would be a violation of democracy!—Lenin made this important observation: “As far as the philosophical roots of this phenomenon are concerned, it amounts to the substitution of eclecticism and sophistry for dialectics.” (“The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, LCW, vol. 28, pp. 233-34) The familiar substitution of eclectics and sophistry for materialist dialectics is found in the CRC document’s attempt to separate individuals from the social classes they are part of in class society; to attribute a “dualistic” character to the bourgeois state and the contradictions it deals with; to insist on the “non-class aspect” of the bourgeois-democratic state.
In their last great battle against Deng Xiaoping and the other capitalist-roaders in China, Mao and his comrades brought out how Deng & Co. argued that it was necessary to pay attention not only to revolution but also to production; that rules and regulations in enterprises dealt not only with the relations between people in production (class relations) but also with the relations between people and nature in the process of production (a “non-class contradiction”). The revolutionaries in China pointed out that the relation (or contradiction) between people and nature in production cannot be separated in this way from the relations of people to each other in the process of production (production relations—in class society, class relations). They exposed the revisionists’ eclectics as an attempt to impose rules and regulations with a bourgeois class content under the cover of “non-class contradiction” and to oppose Mao’s line of “grasp revolution/promote production” with a line of suffocating revolution under the banner of boosting production.
The CRC document applies the same kind of eclectics with its argument that the bourgeois-democratic state is not only a means of class suppression but also has a “non-class aspect”. The substance and effect of this argument amounts to denying or adulterating the quintessential fact that the bourgeois-democratic state means democracy only for the bourgeoisie, that it means dictatorship over the proletariat and masses of people. To “forget” this—and to talk about the “historical advance” of bourgeois democracy “in dealing with the non-class contradiction of individual/ society”—is to forget a fundamental teaching of Marxism: in class society, individuals are, most fundamentally and decisively, members of classes, and even their individual “wills” are a product of their social conditions and class position and not some individual essence independent of social relations.16
In order to make even clearer the essence of the question here and to reveal more fully the class basis of—the class outlook and interests represented by—the CRC document’s treatment of the bourgeois-democratic state and its relation to individuals as well as classes, it is worthwhile reviewing some important passages from major Marxist works which shed light on this. First, the following from Engels, in which he lays bare the class content of the self-proclaimed “universal principles” of the bourgeois revolution:
“The great men, who in France prepared men’s minds for the coming [bourgeois] revolution, were themselves extreme revolutionists. They recognised no external authority of any kind whatever. Religion, natural science, society, political institutions—everything was subjected to the most unsparing criticism: everything must justify its existence before the judgment-seat of reason or give up existence....
“Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, the kingdom of reason; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on Nature and the inalienable rights of man.
“We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realisation in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.” (Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, MESW, vol. 3, pp. 115-16)
Next, the following, which Marx described as “the guiding principle of my studies”:
“In the social production of their existence, men enter into definite, necessary relations, which are independent of their will, namely, relations of production corresponding to a determinate stage of development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which there arises a legal and political superstructure and to which there correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life-process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Peking: FLP, p. 3)
Finally, the following from Lenin:
“Everyone knows that the masses are divided into classes;... that usually...classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary.” (Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Peking: FLP, Chapter V, pp. 28-29)
The underlying and unifying point here is that those whose outlook corresponds to and is conditioned by the bourgeois world and worldview—and this applies to the petit-bourgeois democrats as well—are incapable of grasping the fundamental material reality that determines the content of a given society and its institutions and ideas. They cannot correctly comprehend the underlying basis and the actual class nature of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois-democratic notions of freedom, individuality, and so on, any more than they can correctly understand the actual content of proletarian democracy and proletarian dictatorship. They cannot get right the relations between different classes, between individuals and classes, and between classes as such and their ideological and political leadership (parties).
The CRC document, in its attempt to rationalize its “non-class” analysis (or analysis of “non-class aspects”), cites a passage—or, more accurately, part of a passage—from Chapter I of The German Ideology by Marx and Engels:
“‘....in the course of historical evolution......there appears a division within the life of each individual in so far as it is personal and in so far as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it.’ (German Ideology, p. 66 vol 1, Selected Works, Moscow)”.
This is as cited in the CRC document (par. 13.4)—and this is all they cite—there is quite a bit left out. If we look at the whole passage in question, we see that what is left out makes clear that Marx’s and Engels’s meaning is the opposite of what the CRC document implies. Marx and Engels explicitly make the point that individuality in class society takes shape within and is conditioned by the class relations. For example, in the very next sentence after the one cited in this CRC document, Marx and Engels say this: “We do not mean it to be understood from this that, for example, the rentier, the capitalist, etc., cease to be persons; but their personality is conditioned and determined by quite definite class relationships and the division appears only in their opposition to another class and, for themselves, only when they go bankrupt.” (MESW, vol. 1, p. 66, emphasis added)
What, in fact, Marx and Engels are getting at here is not that there is a “non-class aspect” to the “life of individuals” in class society, and to their labour in particular, but that there is a contradiction in the fact that they exist and carry out their labour as separate individuals yet their role in production and their role in society overall is conditioned and determined by the overall social production process with its division of labour. In capitalist society, their labour (and their overall existence) is bound together by commodity production and exchange and most essentially by the process of capitalist accumulation. Marx and Engels go on to elaborate on this, speaking specifically to the question of individual freedom and how, especially under capitalism and above all for the proletariat, the appearance (individual freedom) is in conflict with the essence (class oppression and exploitation). Here, in this longer passage from the work in question, is how they develop this point:
“In the estate (and even more in the tribe) this is as yet concealed: for instance, a nobleman always remains a nobleman, a commoner always a commoner, apart from his other relationships, a quality inseparable from his individuality. The division between the personal and the class individual, the accidental nature of the conditions of life for the individual, appears only with the emergence of the class, which is itself a product of the bourgeoisie. This accidental character is only engendered and developed by competition and the struggle of individuals among themselves. Thus, in imagination, individuals seem freer under the dominance of the bourgeoisie than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are more subjected to the violence of things. The difference from the estate comes out particularly in the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.” (ibid, emphasis added)
In the Grundrisse, Marx further elaborates on this, making an observation that is very relevant as an exposure of the position and outlook set forth in this CRC document:
“In the money relation, in the developed system of exchange (and this semblance seduces the democrats), the ties of personal dependence, of distinctions of blood, education, etc. are in fact exploded, ripped up (at least, personal ties all appear as personal relations); and individuals seem independent (this is an independence which is at bottom merely an illusion, and it is more correctly called indifference), free to collide with one another and to engage in exchange within this freedom; but they appear thus only for someone who abstracts from the conditions, the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact (and these conditions, in turn, are independent of the individuals and, although created by society, appear as if they were natural conditions, not controllable by individuals).... A closer examination of these external relations, these conditions, shows, however, that it is impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome them en masse without destroying them.” (Marx, Grundrisse, translated with a foreword by Martin Nicolaus, Penguin Books/New Left Review, “The Chapter on Money”, pp. 163-64, emphasis in original)
Let’s see where the authors of this CRC document are heading with their distortion of the Marxist position on the relation of individuals and classes, with their insistence on “the non-class aspect” of the bourgeois-democratic state and the “non-class contradiction of individual/society”. Before long, this is developed into a whole criticism of what is identified as “one dominant tendency” in “the line followed by communists from Lenin onwards”, namely:
“...a class-reductionist tendency. That is, analysing society only in terms of class and class struggle thereby neglecting the non-class aspects in the complex phenomenon of society. Lenin’s one sidedness in understanding the complexities of the dictatorship of the proletariat and his total neglect of the need to develop a political system will have to be attributed to this class-reductionist approach, which is still very dominant in the whole communist movement.” (par. 9.6)
This is a remarkable assertion! Besides everything that has been said, in refutation of this document, about Lenin’s actual theory and practice in leading the dictatorship of the proletariat, have the authors of this document forgotten that it was Lenin who wrote literally volumes on the right of nations to self-determination, taking to task people like Rosa Luxemburg, among others, who tended to liquidate the national question, to reduce the oppression of the masses in the dominated nations to simply a matter of class exploitation, in the most narrow sense? If the concept of “class reductionism” has any legitimate meaning, it would refer to this kind of vulgar economist tendency—the tendency to reduce every contradiction to the most narrow expression of the relations between the workers and the capitalists. And no one was a more consistent and determined fighter against precisely this kind of tendency than Lenin. But, in waging the struggle against economist tendencies of all kinds, Lenin did so from the point of view of a definite class—the proletariat. And that is just the point. What the authors of the CRC document are actually referring to, when they invoke the spectre of “class reductionism”, is nothing other than Marxist class analysis. They are expressing their fundamental disagreement with the statement by Mao that, “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.”17 (Mao, “On Practice”, Selected Works, Peking: FLP, vol. 1, p. 296)
As an illustration of this, we can cite the example that Mao himself uses in his “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art”, where he speaks to the concept that some artists were raising—the theme of “love of humanity”. He says that, in actual fact, in a society divided into classes, although people may talk about love of humanity, it is not possible for anyone to actually carry out this orientation in practice, since society is divided into classes and it is not possible to love both the oppressors and the oppressed. Whether you want to or not, you have to choose which side you’re going to be on. Again, all this will be fundamentally conditioned by the class relations in any class society. “Love of humanity” may seem, especially from a petit-bourgeois standpoint, to have no class character—or to transcend class relations and deal with a “non-class contradiction”—but in fact it will always find expression ultimately in class terms (so long as society is divided into classes). To insist on this understanding is not “class reductionism”—it is Marxist materialism.
But, taking up the CRC document’s own concept (“class reductionism”), it must be said that, while all things in society do not necessarily express themselves immediately and directly in class terms, they are all “reducible” to class terms in the final analysis. For example, when Mao said in his 1968 statement in support of the Afro-American people’s struggle that the contradiction between the masses of Black people and the ruling class in the U.S. is in the final analysis a class contradiction, he didn’t mean that there is no national question involved; he meant that this contradiction would finally be resolved through the proletarian revolution. To say, more generally, that the national struggle is in the final analysis a matter of class struggle does not mean that the national question has no dynamic of its own; but it does mean that in essence and at bottom it is conditioned by the fundamental class relations and will find its ultimate resolution through the resolution of the class struggle with the final victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and achievement of communism, worldwide; and it means that different classes, both within the oppressor nations and within the oppressed nations, will have different outlooks on the national question, as on everything else.
At this point it should be clear how the CRC document’s opposition to “class reductionism” is in actuality a petit-bourgeois demand for “freedom” from the Marxist method of class analysis and the whole proletarian world outlook and methodology—a demand which parallels the desire to be “free” of the proletariat and its dictatorship in the real world, to repudiate the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat (“from Lenin onwards”). Here the following insights of Marx are very relevant. Commenting, significantly, on a variant of petit-bourgeois social-democracy that, in a different context and somewhat different form, also advocated “the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petite bourgeoisie”, Marx goes on to say that:
“...one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....
“But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people’s rights; what interests them is the people’s interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes.” (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Moscow: Progress Publishers, pp. 40-41, 43-44, emphasis in original)
Assessing Historical Experience
Viewing, from its standpoint, the whole history of socialism so far, the CRC document draws this conclusion:
“While upholding the heroic effort to create a new society and the new things which emerged through socialism (things which have played a positive role in shaping history) as communists our task is to focus on our mistakes and correct them; not justify them in the name of historical limitations.” (par. 9.6)
In response to this, three points:
1. In fact, as communists our main task in this regard, especially in today’s concrete circumstances, is to uphold and defend not merely “the heroic effort to create a new society” but the great historical achievements of the dictatorship of the proletariat in actually bringing into being a radically new society, for the first time in the Soviet Union, and then carrying this to even greater heights through the Chinese revolution and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. At the same time, and on this basis, we must also ruthlessly and penetratingly criticize our actual mistakes and seek the means of avoiding those mistakes in the future and minimizing mistakes in general to the greatest degree possible.
In this regard, it must be frankly said that it is inconsistent, not to say hypocritical, for the CRC document to speak of upholding “the new things which emerged through socialism (things which have played a positive role in shaping history)” while at the same time insisting that “from Lenin onwards” the basic line and practice of the international communist movement regarding the most decisive question of proletarian state power was fundamentally flawed, that within a few years after the October Revolution the “dictatorship of the party” was instituted in place of the dictatorship of the masses, and that even the Cultural Revolution did not break out of this framework of “dictatorship of the party”. To be consistent—that is, consistently Marxist—the necessary conclusion that would have to be drawn from such an analysis is that there never was any socialist transformation in those societies: for how could a Marxist think that such a world-historical transformation—and socialism, though it is not yet classless society, nevertheless represents a world-historical transformation—could be achieved not by the party leading and relying on the masses but by imposing the dictatorship of the party over them?! Viewed from this perspective, there would be very few, if any, “new things”—in particular, socialist new things—to uphold.
2. With regard to our mistakes, the first thing is to make a correct appraisal of what they were—and were not—and on that basis dig into the roots of them—the objective and subjective roots, those which did result from historical limitation and from an unfavourable balance of class forces and those which resulted from errors in outlook and methodology and in political strategy and policy.
3. This CRC document has failed to correctly appreciate and sum up the lessons from either the great advances or the actual mistakes involved in this historical experience. And this is not accidental: it is not possible to correctly analyze the mistakes without correctly evaluating the achievements and vice versa (this is related to the basic point of orientation stressed in the section of the RIM Declaration cited earlier—pointing out how the summation of historical experience is itself an arena of acute class struggle and that criticism of this experience and genuine creative development of Marxism is inseparably linked with a fierce struggle to uphold the basic principles of Marxism). Unfortunately, however, the CRC document abandons basic principles of Marxism.
Centralization, Decentralization and the Withering Away of the State
As we have seen, an incorrect position on the role of the party, particularly under the dictatorship of the proletariat, is pivotal in the CRC document’s abandonment of these principles. And the document actually goes so far as to assert that:
“another tendency encouraged by Lenin’s stand on the Party’s central role in the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dominant thinking in the communist movement which considers that the party determines everything in relation to social revolution”. (par. 9.7)
To attribute such a position to Lenin clearly flies in the face of reality—including Lenin’s practice as a leader of the October Revolution and the international communist movement and his contributions to Marxist theory. But to attribute this to Mao is especially outrageous. It was Mao who crystallized the understanding that the masses are the makers of history, that the people and the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history—Mao gave this concentrated theoretical expression and he consistently applied it in practice, in the struggle to seize power, to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat and to carry forward the revolutionary struggle toward communism. And it is not surprising that, with such a distorted outlook on what has been the actual “dominant thinking” and practice in the international communist movement, this CRC document, while “on the one hand” upholding a leading role for the communist vanguard, soon proceeds to deny that leading role “on the other hand” and in essence.
This becomes even clearer as the document gets into what it calls a “new orientation”. Not surprisingly, however, this “new” orientation is far from new: it is a rather well-known conception common to a variety of petit-bourgeois and bourgeois “socialists”. And, as is common to such conceptions, this “new orientation” is grounded firmly in idealism. Continuing to discount or dismiss the very real contradictions, within socialist society and internationally, that have been the essential basis for why, in certain significant respects, the actual historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has differed from what Marx projected from the short-lived and very limited experience of the Paris Commune, this document insists that:
“A qualitatively new understanding of proletarian political power must be the starting point. It must reflect Marx’s concept of the Paris Commune—as the reabsorption of state power by the whole society. So the proletarian state should not be a state like the bourgeois state or the state under socialism so far practised by the communists which concentrated the whole power in the centralised state structure. It will have to be a new political system in which the state ceases to be a state by starting the process of reabsorption of state power by society, through a process of decentralising political power, aimed at reaching a stage when the (political) will of the whole society can get expressed and realised directly without the mediation of the state. Such a system can be developed only by achieving the genuine socialisation of the means of production, which can again be assured through a political system which ensures proletarian democracy. This socialist system, in which the socialised economic base and the proletarian democratic political system are complementary aspects, must survive on its own becoming a social system acceptable to and practised by the whole people, under the leadership of the proletariat.” (par. 10.3)
Note the equation: centralization—bad; decentralization—good. Again, this reflects the classical petit-bourgeois aversion to the rule of the proletariat through its powerful centralized state and its centralized control over the economy. This document is, in effect, calling for the abolition of the proletarian state—as soon as the proletariat has consolidated its rule and socialized ownership—and the replacement of this state by a non-state democratic political system.
In actual fact, the withering away of the state is not equivalent to the abolition of a centralized administrative structure—such a structure will still be necessary in communist society, although there, even as compared with socialist society, it will be a structure of a radically new type. Nor does the process of the withering away of the state—the process of “the reabsorption of state power by the whole society”—find its most essential expression in the weakening of the central state apparatus and its replacement by decentralized political institutions. In essence, this process involves the drawing of the broad masses (and ultimately the people as a whole) into the administration of society—on both the central and local levels—as part of the whole struggle to overcome the division between mental and manual labour and all oppressive divisions of labour and related inequalities in society overall.
But let’s look further at the question of centralization-decentralization and the CRC document’s distorted view of this. In fact, what is being proposed with the CRC document’s “new orientation” is the same old anarchist-syndicalist line that Lenin criticized: a line that sets decentralization against the centralized state power and economic control of the proletarian state—that treats these as essentially antagonistic, rather than grasping the non-antagonistic dialectical relation between them. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, without a powerful central state apparatus and its centralized control of the economy, decentralization will only lead to a situation of conflicting local and particular interests, will foster capitalist competition and contribute to the restoration of the capitalist system. In the real world it is impossible for the proletariat to exercise dictatorship over the enemy, or to practice democracy among the people, just as it is impossible for it to be the master of the economy, without such powerful centralization: without such centralization there is no way to maintain a unified and integrated socialist economy, relying on planned and proportional development serving the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, and no way for the larger interests of the proletariat as a class to be translated into lines and policies guiding the entire society.
On the other hand, centralization without relying on the masses and giving wide scope to initiative on the local and basic levels will also lead to the restoration of capitalism, in the form (initially at least) of state capitalism. This is why Mao stressed that, in formulating plans for the socialist economy as well as in carrying out these plans, as with everything else, the mass line must be practised and fundamental reliance must be placed on the conscious activism of the masses. Summing up the pathbreaking experience in carrying out the line of “grasp revolution/promote production” in socialist China, Raymond Lotta points out that:
“The Chinese planning system delegated decision-making to local political authority, which, in conjunction with unified political direction and new forms of socialist management, increased the exercise of collective control by the proletariat. The Chinese revolutionaries demonstrated the possibility of combining regulation with creative experimentation, centralized control with local initiative, balance with breakthrough, and economic coordination with mass political campaigns; they put revolutionary politics in command of economic development. This model represents a qualitative leap in the theory and practice of socialist planning...”.
“Mao summed up that too much top-down (vertical) control over the economy stifled popular initiative. Such a system of planning could not give full play to local capabilities and allow for creative utilization of local resources. It also undermined unified leadership over the economy as a whole, since there was no way that a complex and diverse economy could be managed on the basis of detailed commands from the top, no matter how thorough the statistical information and price calculations may be....”
“Thus the policy of giving greater scope to local authority was carried out in dialectical unity with unified central leadership and unified planning. Local initiative would have the effect of strengthening, not weakening, centralized leadership and unified planning. But the real glue of this system ensuring that the interests of the whole and the overall needs of the revolution were being met was political and ideological. And decisive to this was the practice of the ‘mass line’ to ensure that planning was carried out in accordance with the interests of the masses and on the basis of mobilizing the masses.” (Lotta, “The Theory and Practice of Maoist Planning: In Defense of a Viable and Visionary Socialism”, a paper to be published in forthcoming issue No. 62 of Revolution, emphasis in original)
If the Vanguard Doesn’t Lead, Who Will?
With this in mind, let’s return to the formulation in the CRC document’s “new orientation”: “This socialist system, in which the socialised economic base and the proletarian democratic political system are complementary aspects, must survive on its own becoming a social system acceptable to and practised by the whole people, under the leadership of the proletariat”. Here it must be asked: what is meant by this “whole people”? Does it include or exclude the overthrown exploiters? And what about newborn exploiters, arising from within socialist society itself? And what about degenerated elements from among the working people themselves, since no reasonable person can deny that in socialist society there will be such? Once it is allowed that dictatorship must be exercised over these groups, then we are back to the fact that “a social system acceptable to and practised by the whole people” cannot come about right away or in a short time—without protracted and at times very acute class struggle and in fact the thorough transformation of the economic base and the superstructure of society and moreover the whole world.
What, in this context, can “survive on its own” mean? Does it mean that if the “whole people” decide they do not want this system, it must be abandoned until a time in the future when, perhaps, this “whole people” will decide that after all they do want this system again—at least for a while. The absurdity of such a concept—which is related to the absurdity of this Khrushchev-like notion of a classless “whole people”—should be readily apparent.
Oh, but it is said that this “whole people” must practise this “socialist” system “under the leadership of the proletariat”. But here this CRC document runs into a logical contradiction of its own making. According to its own logic, it can legitimately be asked: who gave the proletariat “the right” to assert its leadership? From the point of view of this “whole people”, why is that not just as bad as the dreaded “dictatorship of the party”? But, even if this proletarian leadership were to be accepted, how would this leadership be actually exercised—institutionally or “extra-institutionally”—what would be the means and mechanisms for this that would not actually land you back in the same old situation where the vanguard of the proletariat plays the leading role?
In fact, once again the very logic of this document will lead to the conclusion that there should not be any vanguard, at least not a proletarian vanguard. And, further, it will also lead to the conclusion that no one, no social classes or forces, should be excluded from “the whole people”; for who gave any one group “the right” to set itself up as the judge of who can be included among “the whole people”. There is, of course, an answer to this, but it cannot be provided with the bourgeois-democratic outlook that runs through this CRC document.
At this point the CRC document seems to allow that the leadership of a vanguard party will be necessary to carry out the overthrow of the old state power, the smashing of the old state machinery and then “the establishment of the new political system”. (par. 10.4) And further, “The vanguard party of the proletariat will have to play the leading role until the new political system starts functioning effectively, by completing the process of the socialisation of the means of production and then consolidating the power in the hands of the new ruling classes under the leadership of the proletariat. Once this is achieved the communist party must give up its monopoly control of the revolutionary transformation and allow the system to function on its own. Under the proletarian democratic system, the effectiveness of the new system will be accepted or rejected by the people through an open democratic process in which the whole people will be freely involved through their own political organisations or otherwise.” (ibid)
Once again, the document is embroiled in all kinds of logical contradictions of its own making.
First, on the question of violently overthrowing the old system and the role of the vanguard party in this, as was pointed out in the beginning of this critique, in drawing some general conclusions concerning the CRC document: this document’s position on the so-called dictatorship of the party is inescapably linked to a position that a violent overthrow, especially one led by a vanguard party, is also wrong—elitist and coercive not only against the bourgeoisie but also against masses of people who may not, at the start at least, agree with the vanguard party about the need to carry out this violent overthrow. Shouldn’t this question (of whether or not to overthrow the old system) be put to a vote of the “whole people”? Or perhaps it should be put to a vote of the “whole people” minus the old ruling class and those (openly) siding with it?—but then, again, you would run into the vexing problem of who would decide, who would have “the right” to decide, who exactly should be included and excluded from the ranks of the “whole people”. Before long, this kind of formal democratic preoccupation would overwhelm any orientation toward overthrowing the system!
This might seem like a caricature of the CRC document’s position, but it is not. It is not accidental that Khrushchev’s line on “the state of the whole people” was part of a package that also included “the peaceful transition to socialism”. And the parallel also exists with regard to the line and logic put forward in this CRC document. If this line and logic is persisted in, it won’t be long before some version of “peaceful transition” is also more or less openly adopted.
Returning to the question of when and according to what criteria it should be determined that the party should no longer play an institutionalized leading role in the new society, we run into another of the by-now-familiar logical contradictions in the CRC document. Who is to determine when “the new political system starts functioning effectively” and specifically when the consolidation of “power in the hands of the new ruling classes under the leadership of the proletariat” has been sufficiently achieved that the party must give up this role? Is it the party that decides this? But that is a contradiction in itself—how can the party decide for the masses that they no longer need the party’s institutionalized leading role? Or, if this is not decided by the party, then by whom and by what means is this decided—do the people vote on it? But then who decides when it is time to have such a vote, who organizes such a vote, sets the rules for it, etc., etc.? The silliness of these questions is a reflection of the underlying idealism of the whole line set forth in this CRC document.
Turning to the economic aspect, in no socialist country to date has there existed anything close to complete socialization of ownership, certainly not in the sense spoken of by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Programme (where he conceived of all ownership being ownership by society as a whole). And experience suggests that it is likely to involve a long period before such complete socialization can be achieved. In both the Soviet Union and in China when they were socialist, the fact that things had not yet advanced to the stage where all means of production were owned by the whole people was identified as a major reason why commodities and with them the law of value continued to play a significant, if not overall regulating, role in the economy. In China, collective ownership by groups of peasants was still the most widespread form of ownership, with the relatively small production teams still the main economic accounting unit. Mao, and Chang Chun-chiao following him, identified this as a significant and long-term contradiction, very much bound up with the existence of classes and class struggle and the continual engendering of the bourgeoisie under socialism. So, to say that the party should step down from its institutionalized vanguard role when the process of socialization is completed, without addressing crucial questions like this, is another, more serious, reflection of the idealism of this CRC document.
The fact is that, exactly because of profound contradictions such as this and their reflection in the superstructure, the party will have to continue to play the leading role for a long period—in fact throughout the entire historical period of socialist transition, which is marked by such contradictions. And to actually play this role in the correct way—in the correct relationship to the masses—this leading role must be institutionalized. As pointed out before, if this is not the case, then, owing to the actual contradictions still in force, some other group must and will dominate decision-making, but it will be bourgeois cliques of one kind or another.
What Kind of Party, What Kind of Revolution?
In opposition to this understanding, the “new orientation” envisioned in this CRC document holds that, from the time of the seizure of power, even when it must still play the vanguard role, the party “must assert its authority only politically through the bodies elected by the people”, and moreover the party must function as an “open party” and be “very democratic even allowing factions etc. as a matter of principle”. (par. 10.5) And then, once the functioning of the new political and economic system has been developed according to the principles set forth in this document, the party “should formally relinquish its monopoly of power”, and, “Its right to govern should be strictly based on the electoral support gained by its platform just like any other platform.” (par. 10.9)
This is yet more idealism. It is mere playing at socialist revolution, if it is even that. This may be an appropriate party for a socialist society existing in some idyllic imaginary world where there is no imperialist encirclement, no soil constantly giving rise to the bourgeoisie within the socialist society itself, no significant social distinctions and class contradictions among the people themselves, no ideological influence of the exploiting classes, and so on. But it is clear that this has nothing to do with a revolutionary party that must act as the vanguard of a determined class struggle, both within the country and internationally, against a class enemy that still has a powerful base internationally and even within the socialist society itself has some powerful material conditions operating in its favour.18
It may sound “very democratic” to talk about an “open party” that allows factions within it “as a matter of principle”, and so on. But in reality this is just a recipe for a party with many different “centres”, none of which will be capable of representing the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, especially in periods of acute class struggle—a party that will degenerate into bourgeois factionalism. All this is indeed “very democratic”—it is very bourgeois-democratic—the “principle” involved in this is bourgeois principle.19
It should be recalled how the experience of the Bolshevik Party, in leading the October Revolution and the Soviet state it gave birth to, involved, as a significant aspect, breaking with the influence of social-democracy, represented most prominently by the German Social-Democratic Party of Kautsky. This was a process which culminated in a complete rupture, focused around World War 1—a sharp turn in which the majority of the parties in the Second International went from quantity to quality in degenerating into opportunism, while on the other hand the Bolsheviks also went from quantity to quality in breaking with erroneous tendencies that had long held considerable sway in the international socialist movement. One of the sharpest focuses of this was precisely the question of the party.
As we know, in order to prepare for and then lead the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s leadership, had to fight a fierce battle to establish and maintain the kind of vanguard party necessary for the tasks of proletarian revolution. And, in the aftermath of the seizure of power, the Bolsheviks again had to make another, further leap in conceptualizing and realizing a vanguard party that could lead the continuing struggle. One significant expression of this was the outlawing of factions within the Party. It is true that, while this may have been initially seen as a temporary measure to deal with an acutely difficult situation in the wake of the civil war, it was then given more general and long-term application. And this was correct.
Genuine communist parties, real vanguards of the proletarian revolution, need the contention of opposing views and a vigorous ideological struggle within their own ranks, but they also need this to be done through the unified organizational structure of the party and not through the formation of organized factions, each with a different platform, set of leaders, and so on. Serious breaches of discipline and factional activity within the Bolsheviks almost killed the October insurrection (Kamenev and Zinoviev, who disagreed with the insurrection, or at least with the timing of the insurrection, publicly revealed the plans for the insurrection, with nearly fatal consequences); and, had factions not been outlawed when they were (1921), they would have killed the new Soviet Republic and obviously prevented the building of socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat.20
With the line that is put forward in this CRC document on the nature and role of the party under socialism, how will the proletariat be able to exercise its leadership—in fact its all-around dictatorship—in the superstructure, including such crucial spheres as culture? What kind of culture, representing which class, will dominate the stage in this kind of setup? It is worth recalling that, in discussing the reasons why the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was absolutely necessary and most timely, Mao pointed to the fact that, even after power had been seized and up until the time of the Cultural Revolution, culture and education had overall remained under the domination of the bourgeoisie (of the revisionists in particular). It required a monumental struggle to seize control of these crucial spheres from the revisionists and to embark on the radical transformation of them. It would be extremely idealist to think that a proletarian line will dominate in the sphere of culture—or the superstructure generally—on the basis of spontaneity and without the systematic, all-around leading role of the party—a single party unified on the basis of a single line, not one divided into factions and riddled with factionalism. In the absence of such leadership, the superstructure will in reality be dominated by the bourgeoisie, and this, in turn, will mean that capitalist relations will become dominant in the economic base—that capitalism will be restored in society as a whole.21
The Bourgeois Electoral Model vs. Leading the Masses to Remake the World
Yes, it is true, the party must not rely on its position of authority, it must rely on the masses; but that does not mean it should degenerate into acting like any old social-democratic party, tailing the masses and reducing its role to the framework and confines of bourgeois-democratic politicking for votes, abdicating its responsibility to act as a vanguard and actually lead the masses in revolution.
That the CRC document’s vision of the functioning of the “proletarian democratic system” is in reality not qualitatively different from a classical bourgeois-democratic system should be clear by now. Its “model”, where the communist party’s “right to govern” is “strictly based on the electoral support gained by its platform just like any other platform”, would, at best, translate into a situation where rival power centres, coalesced around different platforms, would compete for the votes of the masses. The result of this (again, at best) would be some sort of “coalition” government, in which “socialists” and “communists” of various kinds would be involved together with representatives of various other, more openly bourgeois and petit-bourgeois, “democratic” trends, and in which the fundamental interests of the masses would be “compromised away” and no radical transformation of society would be carried out (and any attempt at this would be quickly and ruthlessly suppressed by this “coalition” government). Hasn’t there been enough—indeed far too much!—experience, all over the world, to graphically illustrate this?22
The notion that somehow this kind of electoral process will result in the expression of the “political will” of the masses can only elicit a cynical snort of laughter from anyone who is at all familiar with this kind of electoral process and who is not suffering from “political amnesia”; it is a notion that could be believed only by people who take bourgeois democracy more seriously than the bourgeoisie itself does—who have not learned, or have “unlearned”, that such democracy, with its electoral process, is an instrument that serves the exercise of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie over the masses. This does not mean that there is no legitimate role for elections in socialist society, but such a role must be based on the recognition that the formal process of elections cannot represent the highest or most essential expression of the “political will” of the masses; that elections can only be a subordinate part of the overall process through which that “political will” is expressed; that elections, like everything else in class society, will be conditioned and shaped by the fundamental class relations; and that in socialist society elections must reflect and serve the exercise of political power by the proletariat, with the leading role of its party.
In contrast to this, the following characterization of the role of elections in bourgeois society applies as well to the (bourgeois) democratic electoral process the CRC document envisions for its version of “socialist” society and its “proletarian democratic system”:
“This very electoral process itself tends to cover over the basic class relations—and class antagonisms—in society, and serves to give formal, institutionalized expression to the political participation of atomized individuals in the perpetuation of the status quo. This process not only reduces people to isolated individuals but at the same time reduces them to a passive position politically and defines the essence of politics as such atomized passivity—as each person, individually, in isolation from everyone else, giving his/her approval to this or that option, all of which options have been formulated and presented by an active power standing above these atomized masses of ‘citizens’.” (Avakian, Democracy, p. 70, emphasis in original)
Throughout the CRC document we find many references to the “political will” of the people or of the proletariat. But nowhere in this document is there the understanding—in fact this understanding has been repudiated—that there is no way of realizing, and more than that no way of even determining, the “political will” of the proletariat and the masses except through the leading role of the party—through its practice of the mass line and its application of a communist ideological and political line overall.
In fact, as we have seen, the CRC document consistently poses the vanguard role of the party against the conscious activism of the masses. This is unmistakably clear in its claim that, once the standing army has been abolished and replaced by the arming of the whole people, and once the party and its “vanguard role” have been reduced to a matter of the party competing for electoral votes on the basis of its platform (“just like any other platform”), then “unlike in the hitherto practised forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the new political structure, the people wielding the real power in their own hands, also with the arms in their hands, will be playing a very active role in the whole political life of the society, thereby being the best guarantee against restoration and also ensuring the best conditions for seizing back power if restoration takes place”. (par. 10.9, emphasis added)
This is a most amazing statement! How, for example, could people familiar with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution argue that the masses in China were not “playing a very active role in the whole political life of the society”—both in general and specifically in combating revisionism and capitalism restoration? If we contrast the Cultural Revolution with the recent (bourgeois) “democratic upsurges” in China, we can say, without the slightest hesitation, that the conscious activism, the class-conscious revolutionary initiative, of the masses of Chinese people was expressed “a million times more” in the Cultural Revolution. And this has everything to do with the fact that in the Cultural Revolution the masses had the leadership of a communist vanguard, while the recent struggle has not had that leadership.23 In this recent struggle there were positive factors and progressive, even revolutionary, forces taking part—there were open expressions of respect for Mao and support for Mao’s line, there were contrasts explicitly drawn between Mao and his revolutionary followers on the one hand and the corrupt revisionist rulers of today on the other hand. But, with all that, in an overall sense, the forces and lines that occupied the leading position within the mass upsurge represented the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Here it is worth repeating the following on the role of the Leninist party and its relation to the masses, which applies after the seizure of power and throughout the socialist transition period as much as it does to the struggle for the seizure of power:
“Lenin forged and applied these principles by leaping beyond what had previously been worked out by Marx or Engels and further by rupturing with conventional wisdom and practice in the Marxist movement, but he did so from the foundation of basic Marxist principle, by adhering to its basic methodology and entirely consistent with its revolutionary, critical spirit. To raise in opposition to these principles the experience of the Paris Commune, which was defeated—in part, if only secondarily, because of the lack of a Leninist-type party—or the Second International, which degenerated into an outright instrument of imperialism, is thinking turned inside-out and facing backwards, to put it mildly. To argue that the degeneration of the Russian Revolution can be traced to the very nature and role of the Leninist party itself is first of all contrary to the facts and an evasion of the fundamental problems besides. Lenin’s argument in What Is To Be Done?—that the more highly organized and centralized the party was, the more it was a real vanguard organization of revolutionaries, the greater would be the role and initiative of the masses in revolutionary struggle—was powerfully demonstrated in the Russian Revolution itself and has been in all proletarian revolutions. Nowhere has such a revolution been made without such a party and nowhere has the lack of such a party contributed to unleashing the initiative of masses of the oppressed in conscious revolutionary struggle. And,...to argue that a vanguard, Leninist party may degenerate, may turn into an oppressive apparatus over the masses, and therefore it is better not to have such a party, only amounts to arguing that there should be no revolution in the first place; this will not eliminate the contradictions that make such a party necessary, the material and ideological conditions that must be transformed, with the leadership of such a party, in order to abolish class distinctions and therewith, finally, the need for a vanguard party.” (Avakian, For a Harvest of Dragons, Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983, p. 84, emphasis in original)
Democratic Centralism, Two-Line Struggle and Keeping the Vanguard on the Revolutionary Road
The CRC document proceeds with its discussion of the party, taking up “the principle of democratic centralism, evolved and implemented by Lenin” as the organizational principle for communist parties. (see par. 11.2) The CRC document upholds democratic centralism, in theory, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, proceeds to argue that its implementation in practice eventually was turned into an orientation of overemphasizing centralism, virtually to the exclusion of democracy (this was the case, according to the document, especially after factions were outlawed in the Bolshevik Party and then this was made into a principle that has been generally adhered to by communist parties). Not only was this given theoretical expression in the “the whole concept of the monolithic communist Party, propounded by Stalin and solidified during the whole Comintern period and afterwards” ( par. 11.4); but even “Mao’s attempts to develop the two-line struggle within the party” as a “step to re-establish the style of functioning of democratic centralism practised by Lenin, in a more systematic manner” did not really bring any fundamental improvement, because Mao would not break with the orientation set, first, with the outlawing of factions and then with the whole experience of Stalin’s leadership in the Soviet Union and the Comintern. Thus, “in effect the two-line struggle etc. were only some minor steps at rectification within the overall framework established earlier”. (see par. 11.5) In opposition to this, the CRC document argues, what is needed is, “A thorough re-examination of the concept and role of the communist party in the historical process of building socialism and communism.” (par. 11.7)
We have seen to a considerable extent already what this CRC document’s basic notion is of the concept and role of the communist party, but it is worth examining how, under the title “Demystification of the Communist Party”, the document lays out a relativist and pragmatic line on this question. This begins with the statement that, “The Communist Party’s role of being the vanguard of the proletariat is to be tested and proved in the course of the historical process” and that only when a communist party “realizes that it is always subject to the test of historical reality, can it come down to the complexities of reality. Then only can it realize that no authority has been bestowed upon it either by the working class and the people or by history.” (par. 12.1) The document then goes on to discuss “the qualitative distinction between the party leading a revolution to seize power and the party with monopoly in power”: in the former case “the party is compelled by the very context to be self-critical and continuously correct and develop its line and practice in order to mobilise the masses for revolution”; while “in the second case, the pressure of circumstances operate in the opposite direction”. (par. 12.1)
The CRC document has touched on some real and profound questions here, and it might seem to be handling them in a correct, dialectical way. But, unfortunately, once again this is not the case. First of all, it must be pointed out that, while a party that is not in power does face the necessity to be self-critical and to apply the mass line and thereby constantly develop its line and its ability “to mobilise the masses for revolution”, this will exert itself as a compulsion on the party only so long as it remains a revolutionary party, only so long as it maintains an orientation of leading the masses to overthrow the old order and carry forward the revolutionary struggle toward the goal of communism. In other words, at any point, the party, rather than engaging in self-criticism and critically summing up and developing its line and practice in a more revolutionary direction, can do just the opposite—it can abandon the revolutionary road and thereby eliminate the need to be self-critical and to continually correct and develop its line and practice in order to mobilize the masses for revolution.
This is hardly a frivolous or minor point. The CRC document has overlooked here the very real and powerful pulls that are exerted on parties faced with the task of leading the struggle for the overthrow of the old order—pulls to give up on that struggle and to degenerate into revisionist, reformist parties. Historical experience indicates that resisting these pulls and remaining on the revolutionary road is extremely difficult and requires arduous struggle.
On the other hand, for parties in power, while it is true that there is a real pull in the direction the CRC document indicates—in the direction of not systematically applying the mass line and critically summing up their line and practice—it is not the case that such parties are almost bound to degenerate once they come to power (and especially if they have a “monopoly in power”, as the CRC documents puts it). In the one case, as in the other, what the CRC document leaves out of the equation—or, at a minimum, fails to focus on as decisive—is precisely the ideological struggle within the party over the cardinal questions of line, including most fundamentally the question of what is the final goal for which the party is aiming—and indeed which must define its very purposes as a party—and how do the more immediate objectives and policies of the party link up with and serve that final goal?
It is hardly coincidental that the CRC document downgrades the importance of two-line struggle within the party, declaring Mao’s major contribution on this to be a limited and flawed contribution. In fact, in insisting on the decisive importance of the struggle within the party between the two lines of Marxism and revisionism—and the two roads of socialism and capitalism—Mao indicated a key means for combating the tendency of the party—in particular a party in power—to degenerate into a revisionist party. And an important part of the basis on which Mao made this contribution was precisely his criticism of the undialectical notion of a “monolithic party” (see, for example, Mao’s comment that, “To talk all the time about monolithic unity, and not to talk about struggle, is not Marxist-Leninist”—in Mao’s “Talks at Chengtu”, Mao Tse-tung Unrehearsed: Talks and Letters: 1956-71, edited by Stuart Schram, London: Penguin Books, p. 107).
Mao recognized that, objectively, there would be different tendencies within the party—reflecting different forces, ultimately different class interests—within society as a whole, and that the unity of the party could only be relative and not absolute, would not be static but dynamic, developing through a process of unity-struggle-unity. But what is essential to grasp—and what shows the essential difference between Mao’s line and that of the CRC document—is that Mao did not pose the necessity for struggle within the party against the need for the party to be firmly united around one line and on that basis play the—institutionalized—leading role in socialist society, until the achievement of communism.24
Mao did not approach the question of struggle within the party from the standpoint of bourgeois factionalism or petit-bourgeois anarchism. Mao recognized that, in a society marked by class contradiction and class struggle, organized factions within the party would inevitably mean bourgeois factionalism. Such factions would disrupt not only the unity of action of the party but also its unity of will; they would not only undermine the party’s ability to lead the masses but also—and what is basic in being able to lead them—to learn from them. Factions disrupt not only the chain of command of the party; they also, and even more fundamentally, disrupt its chain of knowledge—the flow of ideas from the masses, through the basic levels of the party, to the party leadership. In short, they disrupt the ability of the party to play its role as the vanguard of the proletariat in its revolutionary struggle, before and after the seizure of power.
All this is why Mao, while emphasizing the need for and decisive importance of two-line struggle within the party, also insisted on the three principles: practise Marxism, not revisionism; unite, don’t split; be open and aboveboard, don’t intrigue and conspire. And this is why Mao insisted that, while the Communist Party itself must be continually revolutionized, at the same time the Party must exercise leadership in everything.
Mao’s line is aimed at keeping the party on the revolutionary road and strengthening its role as the revolutionary vanguard. In opposition to this, the CRC document’s line would reduce the party to a reformist party, a party mired in relativism, tailing the masses and tailoring its line to adapt principle to immediate circumstances. This is revealed in the CRC document’s statement that, “The proletarian class interest itself, under a given condition, is very much relative, changing according to the changing reality, though the ultimate interest of the working class, of building communism remains as a long term goal.” (par. 12.1) This is fundamentally wrong: the proletarian class interest does not change in the way the CRC document argues; particular tactics, or even strategies, particular policies, even programs, may change in this way, but the class interest of the proletariat does not.
The difference here might seem merely semantic—since the CRC document does say that “communism remains as a long term goal”—but in separating this long-term goal from the “proletarian class interest itself, under a given condition” and declaring the latter to be “very much relative”, the CRC document opens the door to allowing that anything—any particular policy, etc.—can be in the interests of the proletariat, so long as it is accompanied by some general statement about the final aim of communism. The CRC document’s formulation on class interest is a “two-into-one” formulation: it eclectically combines the class interest of the proletariat with particular policies, etc., at any given time. The correct, dialectical understanding is that the class interest of the proletariat does not change, but at any given time it can be expressed in specific policies, etc., which can and do change.
The point, once again, is that, in any given situation and at all times, everything—all policies, programs, strategies, tactics—must proceed with the final aim of communism as the guiding principle and must serve—not only in word but in deed—as a part of the bridge leading from the present to the communist future. There is a fundamental identity between the interests of the proletariat at any given point and its overall interests in achieving communism, and this identity must be reflected in the unity between the policies of the party at any given time and the basic line of carrying forward the revolutionary struggle to achieve communism. It is this unity the CRC document would break with its eclectics, its relativism and pragmatism.
Given its overall viewpoint, it is not surprising that the CRC document does not see the need for a communist party whose principles of organization are consistent with and are an expression of the revolutionary aims and ideology of the proletariat and which enable the party to play its vanguard role throughout the long and unprecedented struggle against a powerful and desperate class enemy—an enemy whose desperation and determination to defeat the proletarian revolution become all the greater when it has been overthrown and can recognize the threat of its historical extinction. The party envisioned in the CRC document is not so much “demystified” as it is “de-revolutionized”. And this is consistent with the non-revolutionary, social-democratic notion of “socialism and communism” that, unfortunately, characterizes this CRC document from beginning to end.
Conclusion: Rising to the Challenge or Repudiating Revolution
At this point, the main theses and arguments of this CRC document have been dealt with, and the question that once again poses itself is: where will this line lead those who persist in following it? By the end of this CRC document, where it broaches “Some Further Questions”, the larger implications of its line and methodology are becoming evident. In particular there is an orientation of applying the whole notion of combating “class reductionism” and focusing on the “non-class aspects” of a whole number of significant social questions. Thus it is clear that a retreat from the basic principles and methods of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is underway all along the line.
And this retreat is expressed not only in important political positions but also in terms of major questions of ideological line. Near the end of the CRC document, in the course of a discussion on the proper attitude toward the mistakes as well as the contributions of leaders of the international proletariat, we find the following statement: “Even during the rich experiences of Chinese revolution only Mao’s contributions were counted for the enrichment of Marxism.” (par. 12.2)
In response to this, it must be emphasized that it is not a question of Mao as an individual, or of his authority as a leader in some abstract—or formal—sense; and it is not that Mao never made mistakes or that his mistakes should not be summed up. The point is that Mao’s ideological and political line represents a scientific concentration of rich experience, both in China and internationally—it represents the application of communist theory to this experience and the development of communist ideology to a new stage. Not to grasp this—or, more to the point, to retreat from a recognition of this—in the name of not one-sidedly focusing on the contributions of leading authorities, is once more eclectics. In opposition to materialist dialectics, it is idealism and metaphysics which breaks the link between practice and theory as a concentration of practice. It is relativist, and opens the flood-gates to the general relativist argument that one idea is as good as another. This is another significant expression of the overall petit-bourgeois outlook that has been adopted in this CRC document.
What has happened here is something very similar to what Lenin describes in “The Collapse of the Second International”: a major turn in world events has led to disorientation and near-panic, to the scrambling to discard principles which suddenly seem to be a burden rather than a boon in carrying out an orientation of bowing to the spontaneity of the masses and in particular bowing to petit-bourgeois prejudices and democratic illusions, trailing in the wake of the bourgeoisie. Before, “the man in the street” could perhaps be persuaded, particularly about the Soviet Union: “but that is not real communism”. Now that same “man in the street” looks at statues of Lenin coming down in the Soviet Union and is reinforced in the “spontaneous” (bourgeois-propagated) view that “communism was never any good, even in the land of the first communist revolution”.
This kind of tailing after backward forces and sentiments is strongly exhibited again at the end of the CRC document. In the concluding paragraph we are told:
“When the people of the former socialist countries put the communist strategy of monopoly power for the party during the whole transitional phase of socialism on the dock of history, communists cannot remain satisfied with the consolation that this is the result of backward thinking among the people. On the contrary, these experiences again and again indicate the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history.” (par. 14.2)
First of all, it is a grand(iose) exaggeration to say that “the people” in these countries have put the principle of the institutionalized leading role of the Communist Party “on the dock of history”. With regard to China, for example—and this is hardly an insignificant example—it is far from the case that the masses uniformly hold the position that the CRC document ascribes to them: it is clear that there are many who have a very real sense of the qualitative difference between the Communist Party of Mao and the corrupted “Communist Party” under Deng and who have a deep respect for the former and nothing but contempt for the latter—and this is especially so if we are talking about the masses of workers and peasants.
As for the Soviet Union, while there are a number of people (older workers in particular) who have a general sense that there are significant differences between the country under Stalin’s leadership and the situation since (and who strongly prefer the former to the latter, for a number of reasons), it is safe to say that in the Soviet Union (and in other “former socialist countries” that have been part of the Soviet bloc) very few people have ever even heard a systematic presentation of the Maoist analysis of the process of capitalist restoration and of the nature of the ruling classes in the revisionist countries and of the conflicts among various factions within those ruling classes. It is precisely this scientific analysis that is required, but rather than make a materialist analysis of what has gone on in these countries—including a class analysis of the various forces and lines involved—the CRC document makes a philosophical principle out of worshipping the confusion and backwardness of sections of the people in relation to events there: “these experiences again and again indicate the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history”.
This is the same thing as if, at the outbreak of World War 1, when a wave of national chauvinism swept through Russia, Lenin had heralded the chauvinist sentiments and demonstrations of masses of Russian people as a living testament to “the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history”! In fact, the logic of the CRC document here amounts to saying that whatever the masses—and in particular the intermediate or even backward masses, those most strongly influenced by the outlook and propaganda of the bourgeoisie—think at any given time is an expression of the real and highest interests of the masses. This is closely akin to the revisionist formula Lenin strongly criticized: what is desirable is whatever is possible, and what is possible is whatever is happening at the given time. This is not an orientation toward or a method for leading the masses to break with the shackles—including very importantly the mental shackles—of the old order and to create a new world through revolutionary struggle. It is a recipe for miserably tailing the masses and leading them around in a circle, following their own back-sides, without ever breaking free of those shackles.
Real and profound questions have been given concentrated expression in relation to the recent events in the (former) revisionist countries. The answer lies in going deeper, making even firmer one’s grounding in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and on that basis fearlessly, and with a ruthlessly scientific approach, examining the historical experience of the international communist movement. But, once again, in this CRC document we see a different response—outright repudiation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, of “basic concepts we had held aloft so far”.
It is important to recall here something else Lenin describes in “The Collapse of the Second International”: how such a leap into opportunism does not come “out of nowhere” but is the explosion of certain erroneous tendencies that had been developing over a longer period (Lenin uses the analogy of a boil that finally bursts). To take one important aspect of this, the line that runs through the CRC document is related to the tailing after nationalism that has for some time characterized the CRC’s line, in particular its expression in the notion of “an ensemble of new-democratic revolutions”, carried out separately by each nation within (what is now) India—that this represents the road and the content of the new-democratic revolution in India.25
The authors of this CRC document say that the CRC, in formulating its line on the national question, “faced this problem” of “class reductionism”, yet, “Even though we resolved the problem of counterposing the class struggle with national struggle, we had not yet grasped the non-class aspects of the national question because of our own class-reductionist approach.” (par 13.2) But now they “realise the gravity of the setback suffered by the communist movement due to the lack of a correct dialectical understanding between class and non-class aspects involved in developing a political and economic system during the transitional phase of socialism”; and thus they see the need for a more concerted struggle against “the concrete manifestations of this class-reductionist approach” (ibid), in order to be in a position to more systematically apply their newfound outlook and methodology to the national question and a number of other important questions.
In other words, there are connections between the erroneous positions of the CRC on a number of questions. There are, no doubt, a number of important elements involved in the CRC’s motion backwards, and analyzing all the roots and development of this is beyond the scope of this paper. But clearly in the process of adopting an erroneous position on the relation between the national question and the overall new-democratic revolution in India—as well as on other key questions—the CRC began to move away from the class standpoint of the proletariat and to take up the class standpoint of the petite bourgeoisie, including in tailing various nationalist forces among the oppressed nations in India. This petit-bourgeois standpoint, with its tendency to resist any strong centralized ruling force—regardless of whether that force represents the proletariat or reactionary classes—contributed, in turn, to the repudiation of “the traditional Marxist-Leninist interpretation” of the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat (“from Lenin onwards”), with its necessarily strong central state apparatus and institutionalized leading role of the vanguard communist party. And, in turn, this leap to repudiate the principles of MLM on such a decisive question is bound to lead—and is already leading—to the application of an erroneous outlook and method and the adoption of erroneous positions on a whole number of important questions.
The authors of the CRC document are themselves actually drawing the connection between their erroneous political positions. They themselves are revealing a decisive point of outlook and methodology that links these erroneous positions: the abandoning of the class standpoint of the proletariat and of Marxist class analysis—indeed Marxist materialism in general—in the name of opposing “class reductionism”.
With this document, “On Proletarian Democracy”, its authors have retreated into the position that in fact it is not possible or desirable to cross the narrow horizon of bourgeois right—even of formal, bourgeois, democracy. Their answer to the question—can’t we do better than that?—is No. Despite any declarations, or intentions, on their part about upholding the final goal of communism, they have retreated to the “classical theme” of not only the undisguised bourgeoisie but bourgeois socialists singing the same old tired song—they have joined the chorus of those who proclaim, ever more loudly these days, that we cannot and must not move beyond the stage in human history where society remains divided into classes and is marked by social antagonisms.
Whether they intend it or not, their position would condemn the masses to a situation where they could not rise up and overthrow the old order, could not exercise dictatorship over the exploiting classes and could not carry forward the revolution under this dictatorship toward the final goal of communism. It would leave the masses under the domination of an economic system of capitalist exploitation and a corresponding bourgeois political system where, as Marx put it, they have the opportunity to choose, every so many years, which set of exploiters will rule over and oppress them. That is the logic of repudiating the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in socialist society and the actual lessons communists must draw from it, and replacing this with demands for an illusory democracy that is impossible and undesirable under the conditions of socialism, and is unnecessary—and in a profound sense impossible as well—with the achievement of communist society, worldwide.
It is not my intent or purpose here to attempt to examine all the links between the complete full-blown opportunist line represented by this CRC document on the dictatorship of the proletariat and other erroneous tendencies that have characterized the CRC. My focus has been on exposing this full-blown opportunist line itself, which represents a concentration of an incorrect outlook, method, and political line. As expressed in the beginning of this critique of the CRC document, it is my hope that this critique will contribute to the comrades of the CRC themselves undertaking a thorough criticism and repudiation of this document, and in the process re-examining other positions taken by the CRC to see where and in what ways these positions have shared at least aspects of this incorrect outlook, method, and political line.
* The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first successful seizure of power by the working class. For 76 days, between March 26 and May 30, the revolutionary workers held the city of Paris.
The French bourgeoisie had been defeated in war by neighboring Prussia, and the two governments conspired to disarm and suppress the population of Paris. In defiance, the people formed an armed militia—the National Guard—and launched a struggle for power. On March 26, a city-wide council of workers and soldiers declared the Paris Commune.
While fighting courageously at the barricades and ramparts that defended the city, the revolutionary Communards took farsighted steps toward the social transformation toward classless communist society. They declared the abolition of the military draft and the standing army and police. They enacted the separation of church and state, nationalized church property, abolished night shift, abolished interest on debt, and canceled rents owed by the people. The hated guillotine was publicly burned and state execution was abolished. The workers reopened factories closed by the capitalists and ran them cooperatively. Schooling was made free and open to all. The Vendome Column, a monument to France’s wars of aggression, was pulled down. It was announced that no one leading or working for the Commune would make wages above the workers’. Immigrant residents of Paris were declared full citizens of the Commune and held many posts in the revolutionary government—and it was declared that “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”
At the same time, the working class had not yet formed a Marxist vanguard party to lead this revolution. The Marxist internationalist currents were still only a small minority among the many different utopian socialist and radical democratic trends.
The reactionary French government launched an invasion from the nearby town of Versailles. The heroic fighters of the Commune, including many women and youth, defended the revolution with arms, street by street. Finally they were overrun by enemy troops. Tens of thousands were murdered in a bloodbath of mass executions.
The founder of modern communism, Karl Marx, who supported and closely studied this great struggle, wrote afterwards: “Workingmen’s Paris with its Commune, will forever be celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society.”
[This footnote appeared in the Revolutionary Worker reprinting of this work May 30, 2004.] [back]
1. This CRC document was actually published in December 1990, before the coup/countercoup events in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1991, which gave rise to the even further abandonment of any pretence of “communism” by those in power there as well as instances of mass demonstrations of an openly anti-communist character. Since, as we shall see, this document itself abandons the whole legacy of the proletarian revolution and the building of socialism, from the 1917 October Soviet Revolution up through the Chinese Revolution and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; and since it is clear that the events of the past few years in the Soviet Union and China, even before this coup/countercoup episode and its aftermath, were the immediate prod that provoked this radical retreat on the part of those responsible for this CRC document; it is, unfortunately, reasonable to assume that these most recent events will serve to further rationalize this retreat in the minds of those who continue to accept its assumptions. [back]
2. Throughout this critique of the CRC document, where I speak of how it repudiates “the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat”, I am referring specifically to the experience beginning with the October 1917 Soviet Revolution. While the CRC document claims to recognize certain achievements of this historical experience, it is clear in examining this document that—even on its own terms and without considering the logical implications of its position—it regards this entire experience as fundamentally flawed and insists that a whole different orientation should be adopted. And it should also be said that, in pitting the limited experience of the Paris Commune against the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat since then, rather than recognizing and emphasizing the essential unity between them, this CRC document in reality rejects the fundamental spirit and lessons of the Paris Commune itself. [back]
3. It is not the case that militias have been altogether eliminated under revisionist rule; rather, they too have been transformed into a part of the bourgeois apparatus of repression, an adjunct to the regular, standing army serving the rule of the revisionists over the masses. [back]
4. The role of the Soviets, and revolutionary institutions and mass organizations more generally, in relation to the larger, more long-term process of socialist transformation of society is a very important and complex question. It is a question I will return to later, in answering further arguments in the CRC document about how the Soviets were “relegated to the background”. [back]
5. As a matter of fact, the members of the Chinese Communist Party, numbering in the millions and millions and including a very large percentage of workers and peasants, did have this formal right to vote Mao out of office. To be precise, they had the right to elect delegates to a Party Congress and these delegates, who elected the Party Central Committee, had the formal right to refuse to elect Mao to that Central Committee. That they did not do this and why they did not do this is a further illustration, from a number of angles, of the basic point here: not form but social (class) content, rooted in underlying material contradictions, is the essence of the matter. [back]
6. In fact, the “theory of productive forces” (and mechanical materialism generally) is ultimately idealist itself. It metaphysically separates matter from consciousness. It does not grasp the way in which (as Mao put it) matter can be transformed into consciousness and consciousness into matter. Thus, it does not correctly grasp the material foundation of all ideas, nor does it grasp how ideas can be transformed into a tremendous material force. [back]
7. It is important to note the attitude of Lenin toward Luxemburg, with whom he had many serious disagreements over a number of years, both before and after the October Revolution. While making many sharp criticisms of Luxemburg’s positions and methodology, Lenin struggled with her as a comrade within the revolutionary camp. This CRC document itself states that Luxemburg was in prison when she made some of her criticisms of the new Soviet government, and that, “after coming out of prison and getting direct information about the situation in Russia she withdrew some of the criticisms, and kept silent on some others. She realised the difficulty in allowing unlimited freedom to the enemies.” (par. 6.6) But, unfortunately, the CRC document still insists on upholding Luxemburg’s criticisms, specifically on the question of democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and makes them an integral part of its overall attack on the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union (and in China as well). [back]
8. For a further discussion of this important point, see Avakian, “The End of a Stage—The Beginning of a New Stage”, Revolution, No. 60, Fall 1990, Chicago: RCP Publications, “The defeat in China—the international dimension”, pp. 9-11. [back]
9. In fact, the line of of the CRC document here is basically in unity with the “left” opportunist line that was put forward during the Cultural Revolution—the line which declared that the entire leadership of the Communist Party and the state (with the exception of Mao and a few others) was revisionist, and therefore it was necessary to “suspect all”, even to “overthrow all”. This was a line that, had it established itself in command of the Cultural Revolution, would have sabotaged it and strengthened the hand of the real revisionists, headed by Liu Shao-chi [Liu Shaoqi] and Deng Xiaoping; and in fact the revisionist headquarters led by them promoted or in any case made use of this “left” line in an attempt to derail the Cultural Revolution. [back]
10. Here it seems necessary to repeat once more the fact that Engels (along with Marx) did not foresee the actual course that the proletarian revolution would take and the actual situation that would be faced by the proletarian dictatorships that have so far existed. Related to this, they did not foresee the length and complexity of the process of transition between capitalism and communism. [back]
This bears on the statement by Engels (quoted earlier in the CRC document) that the lack of sufficiently strong centralization and authority was fatal to the Paris Commune and that, on the other hand, “‘Once you have won you can do with this authority what you like.’” (Engels, cited in CRC document, par. 3.5, “‘Letter to Carlo Terraghi,’ on the Paris Commune”, emphasis added in the CRC document) The crucial point is that arriving at a situation where “you have won”—where the victory of the proletariat has been secured so firmly and irrevocably that the need for a powerful centralization and authority no longer exists (“can be done with as you like”)—can only be the outcome of a protracted class struggle, both within socialist society and internationally, all during which this centralized power and authority must be firmly upheld and exercised...by relying on the masses, with the leadership of the communist vanguard. It is precisely this centralization and authority that the CRC document is repudiating.
11. It could be argued that the very fact that (even in his writings that were only published after his death) Lenin did not address this question in any systematic way until after the October Revolution is a blow against the accusation that Lenin had intended all along to institute a “dictatorship of the party” and moreover that there is a thread running from What Is To Be Done? to this “dictatorship of the party” (an argument commonly made by social-democrats and such types). [back]
12. In the Chinese revolution this refers to the seizure of power in parts of the country well before the nationwide seizure of power. [back]
13. It might be raised: why could not the standing army, led by the party, be replaced by the organization of the broad masses in militias, also under party leadership? The reasons why it has not been possible so far in socialist society to simply have such militias in place of (instead of alongside of) the standing army—and some general assessment of the conditions necessary for such a step—have been discussed earlier. But it should be noted that the point I have emphasized here—the leading role of the party over the armed forces (standing army and militia)—is precisely what the CRC document must object to. For what is more indicative of a “dictatorship of the party” than the fact that it exercises leadership over the armed forces? Such leadership must mean, according to the CRC document’s logic, that the party has a monopoly on armed force, which is the concentrated expression of political power. Obviously, this viewpoint contrasts sharply with what is said here, in this critique of the CRC document, on the role of leadership in the armed forces and how this relates to the fundamental question of whether the armed forces (standing army and militia) really represent the armed power of the masses upholding the revolutionary interests of the proletariat. [back]
14. It is necessary to comment on this formulation “not only formal but also bogus”. “Bogus” and “formal” cannot be so separated here. Since “the equality professed” by bourgeois democracy is and can only be formal, it cannot avoid also having an aspect of being “bogus”. But on the other hand it is not entirely “bogus”—it does contain an aspect of real equality. The essential point—the profound point that Marxism emphasizes—is that all equality, even that existing under the dictatorship of the proletariat, is at the same time inequality. Further, equality, like democracy, reflects a situation where class contradictions still exist; and in fact, equality, with its aspect of inequality, contains the seed of class division even while, in its formal aspect, it appears to admit of no class distinction. [back]
15. This critique of the CRC document was written as part of a book, “Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!” Here it is worth repeating a footnote which appears in a different section of this book:
While, as emphasized here, the aim of the communist revolution is to eliminate all property relations in which people are exploited by other people, and not “to deprive people of their own property”, as Brzezinski puts it, on the other hand it is the case that in the transition to communism—and more fully in communist society itself—many things which in present-day society are owned and disposed of individually (or within the confines of the present nuclear family) will, to varying degrees, become socialized and will be consumed in a socialized context. One example: meals (their preparation as well as their consumption), which today are the province of separate individuals or families—and are a burden particularly on the women of these families. And more generally, with the elimination of commodity production and exchange, things which in present society must first be purchased as commodities in order to be consumed (including not only food but other basic necessities as well as other articles of personal consumption) will be available to people directly, without the mediation of money (or other commodity equivalents), according to people’s needs. In that context—in the absence of commodities and money—although there will remain personal possessions of various kinds (in particular items of personal consumption), these will never be more than personal possessions: they will not be a potential source of privately accumulated wealth that can be turned into capital, into a basis for exploiting others. [back]
16. It is perhaps necessary to point out that Engels “went overboard” on the question of individual wills in his 1890 letter to Bloch (see Marx and Engels, Selected Letters, Peking: FLP, pp. 75-78), in which his purpose was to “counterbalance” the overwhelming emphasis he and Marx had been obliged to put on the role of underlying material (productive) forces in determining human social development. In this letter, Engels ended up describing the conflicts in society as a clash of innumerable individual wills which are ultimately determined by the underlying material forces. This was a description which tended to leave out, or “put to the side”, the fundamental fact that individuals and “individual wills” are shaped by the social position of individuals—and in class society this means above all their class position. But this particular tendency in this particular letter does not change the fact that Engels, and Marxism in general, recognizes the decisive role of classes and class struggle (since the time classes first emerged), which is clear in the Communist Manifesto and innumerable other Marxist works. [back]
17. By this it should not be understood that there is a direct one-to-one relation in all cases between the class position of any particular person and his/her way of thinking. For one thing, there is the fact that, as Marx and Engels pointed out, the ruling ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class, and these ideas are bound to exert a considerable influence on the thinking of even the members of the oppressed classes. Further, it is a basic principle of Marxist, dialectical materialism that ideas, having arisen on the basis of material reality, in turn exert a great influence on material reality, and that, in this way, ideas, particularly correct ideas, have considerable power to influence people broadly in society (this explains, for example, why some people, particularly intellectuals, from among the bourgeoisie or petite bourgeoisie take up the outlook of the proletariat and join its revolutionary struggle). But, with all this, it remains true that, speaking of masses of people, there is in the final analysis a general correspondence between their class position and their outlook. And more generally, it remains a profound truth that, as Mao put it, “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”. [back]
18. The CRC document doesn’t entirely forget to mention class struggle here. It says that the system of proletarian democracy it is advocating “will have to evolve further” (“Since socialism itself is a period of revolutionary transformation”) and that, “The question of such changes in the political-social-economic structures will itself be a matter of class struggle.” (ibid) But this vague notion of “class struggle” is part of the CRC document’s idealized vision of “socialist society”, in which the material basis for the existence, and strength, of the bourgeoisie is not taken seriously into account—is not even correctly comprehended. This “class struggle” could only be as imaginary as the “socialism” this document dreams up. It has nothing to do with the real, and decisive, class struggle that must be waged as the key link throughout the socialist transition. It doesn’t help to talk about “class struggle” and “a period of revolutionary transformation” in a context where the nature of this “period of revolutionary transformation” is distorted and the basis and centrality of class contradiction and class struggle throughout this period is misapprehended and misrepresented. [back]
19. One of the main expressions of bourgeois principle involved here is treating ideas, including the lines and “platforms” of political parties, as commodities that have to find their value in the “market place of ideas” (and the petite bourgeoisie is particularly susceptible to the illusion that in the operation of the “free market” equality will actually prevail). There is a basic failure to recognize that the essence of the capitalist market in particular is class domination and exploitation. [back]
20. While it may be the case that the counterrevolutionary treachery of Kamenev and Zinoviev in this politically (and literally) life-and-death situation did not result from their involvement in an organized faction—and, in any case, this could not have been prevented simply by the organizational measure of outlawing factions—still their actions were of a clearly factional character: acting according to their own line and discipline in opposition to that of the party. And, as a matter of fact, the more full-blown and ongoing existence of factions will even more fundamentally undermine the unity of will and action of the party and make it incapable of playing a vanguard role, of leading the masses in revolutionary struggle, first to carry out the seizure of power and establish their own proletarian dictatorship and then to carry forward the revolution under this dictatorship.
In order to examine this question more fully, it is worth reviewing the specific circumstances that led to the outlawing of factions in the Bolshevik Party in 1921. The Bolsheviks confronted the challenge of rehabilitating a war-ravaged economy that now faced breakdown, of re-establishing links with key sectors of the population (particularly in the countryside), and of strengthening its organization in a milieu of social dislocation, political disaffection (including within the urban working class) and wavering among middle strata. The civil war had been won, yet the fate of the revolution still hung in the balance. New tasks had to be faced, major policy adjustments were called for (the New Economic Policy was the systematic expression of that necessity), and new skills, especially in managing the economy, had to be developed. Meeting the challenges of the new situation required a united and resolute party, yet the party itself was, and could not but be, affected by the strife and upheaval of the preceding civil war period. Sharp two-line struggle raged over the road forward. That was inevitable. But the successful prosecution of that struggle was complicated by the growing problem of factionalism.
Various opposition groupings were organizing around separate platforms, forcing the agenda of party discussion around secondary questions, and putting adherence to their own platforms above party discipline. Lenin was concerned about the real danger of a split in the party at this crucial time; and he was concerned that the necessary liberalization in economic matters not fan bourgeois-democratic tendencies in the party. It was also the case that, where and when they were in a position to do so, factional elements sought to implement their own programs (for example, followers of Trotsky tried to carry out their program of militarizing the trade unions, a disastrous policy that would feed demoralization within the trade unions and distrust towards the party within society as a whole, exactly at a time when the need to restore popular confidence in the revolution was at a premium). The influx of many young and inexperienced members into the party, alongside many unreconstructed ex-Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc., created fertile ground for factional organizing within the party.
Left unchecked, factionalism would make it more difficult to arrive at and carry out party decisions, would undermine party unity and give greater scope for incorrect policies to take hold; in short, it would weaken the foundations of proletarian rule. Further, precisely because the Bolsheviks were now a party in power, factionalism took on a new and threatening dimension. The internal and external enemies of the revolution could, as they did, speculate on and take advantage of factional intrigue and work through groupings close to power in order to further their aims, while the proliferation of groups organized around their own platforms gave the enemies within the revolution greater room to manoeuvre and organize.
While the particular circumstances that led to the outlawing of factions in the Bolshevik Party in 1921 were ones of acute crisis for the new proletarian state and its leading party; and while the existence of factions within a party in power provides a particularly strong basis for counterrevolutionary forces, inside and outside the socialist country, to weaken and even to overthrow the socialist state or to subvert it from within and turn it into its opposite; there are more general principles involved. The history of the Bolshevik Party illustrates that, even before the seizure of power, the Bolsheviks already needed to rupture more fully with the organizational line that predominated among the socialist parties of the Second International, a line which allowed factions, etc., within the party. This was a line which flowed from the increasingly reformist outlook and program of the majority (and the most influential) of these parties—a line which was not oriented toward leading the masses to overthrow and smash the existing bourgeois state apparatus and establish a new, proletarian state. The outlawing of factions in the Bolshevik Party in 1921—and, beyond that, the establishment of this as a basic organizational principle of communist parties—represented the bringing of organizational practice and principle more fully into line with the objective needs of the proletarian revolutionary struggle, both before and after the seizure of power.
This question of factions within the party will be returned to later, in discussing the concluding sections of the CRC document. [back]
21. In the pamphlet Three Major Struggles on China’s Philosophical Front it is noted that Mao warned “that if we do not build a socialist economy, our proletarian dictatorship will become a bourgeois dictatorship, a reactionary, fascist dictatorship”. (Three Major Struggles, Peking: FLP, 1973, p. 19) And, as the other side of this, if the proletariat does not in fact exercise all-around dictatorship over the bourgeoisie in the superstructure, including the spheres of ideology and culture, it will not be possible to build a socialist economy and remain on the socialist road. The line of this CRC document is an echo of—or actually the “reverse side” of—the line of Liu Shao-chi and his philosophical followers who, after the seizure of nationwide political power in China, advocated a long period in which the economy would be of a “synthesized” capitalist-socialist character and the superstructure would serve both the socialist and the capitalist sector and “‘also serve the bourgeoisie’”. (ibid p. 16) The CRC document’s line arrives at the same place “from the other side”: it would undermine the exercise of all-around dictatorship by the proletariat in the superstructure and create a situation where, in theory, different class forces would be “sharing power” in the superstructure; in reality, of course, this “synthesized” superstructure would mean that the bourgeoisie “synthesized”—“ate up”—the proletariat and seized control of the superstructure as a whole and transformed society in its image—back to capitalism. [back]
22. Among the debacles suffered by socialist and communist parties that have fallen into bourgeois parliamentarism and/or focused their efforts on involvement in governments of “coalition” with various bourgeois forces, perhaps the most dramatic and tragic is the experience of the Indonesian Communist Party in the mid-1960s. This involved the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists (and other Indonesian people), the decimation of a powerful communist party, at the hands of the reactionaries. Leading up to this, the Indonesian Party had increasingly made the focus of its work parliamentary and other forms of legal struggle; it had increasingly relied on its parliamentary successes and its positions in a coalition government (headed by the bourgeois nationalist Sukarno); and it was consequently unprepared for the counterrevolutionary coup d’etat carried out by the Indonesian military (led by Suharto) with not only the backing and back-stage direction but also the active participation of the U.S. CIA. (see “Historical Document: Self-Criticism by the Indonesian Communist Party, 1966”, in Revolution, No. 55, Winter/Spring 1987)
Although the Sukarno government did not, of course, represent the dictatorship of the proletariat, still there is an analogy between the situation of the Indonesian Communist Party in that “nationalist” government and the position that a communist party would be in if it tried to implement the line advocated by the CRC document on how a party should operate under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As noted, such a party would in effect find itself in a “coalition” government in which the party would not be able to exercise sole leadership—in fact, it would not really be able to exercise leadership at all. The party, and the revolutionary masses generally, would be extremely vulnerable to a reactionary coup d’etat (and massacres that would accompany it). Here, once more, it is crucial to recognize that, even leaving out the overthrown ruling class, the “whole people”, under the conditions of socialist society, means many different classes—including newborn bourgeois forces—and “the arming of the whole people” would in reality mean the development of many different armed camps among the people, including armed forces effectively under the command of bourgeois counterrevolutionary leadership. [back]
23. Further, it should be noted that the great unleashing of the masses in the GPCR was possible, too, because it took place under the dictatorship of the proletariat, while the 1989 events were suppressed by a bourgeois state, a bourgeois dictatorship. [back]
24. In a talk, “On Democratic Centralism”, in 1962, Mao says that “secret factions” must be prohibited, but, “We are not afraid of open opposition groups, we are only afraid of secret opposition groups.” (Mao Tse-tung Unrehearsed, p. 183) In reading the whole passage in which these statements appear and taking the whole spirit of Mao’s remarks, it seems clear that he is stressing a certain basic orientation of welcoming ideological struggle, if it is conducted in an open and aboveboard way; and when he talks about not fearing opposition groups that are not secret, he means something different from organized factions, with their own internal unity and discipline, operating within the Communist Party in opposition to the line and discipline of the Party. Rather, it seems he is talking about groups of people who will coalesce, less formally, to put forward a position on particular questions. Mao stresses that, “All leading members within the Party must promote democracy and let people speak out”. (ibid) At the same time, he stresses that this must be on the basis that Party members “observe Party discipline, the minority must obey the majority, and the whole Party should obey the Centre”. (ibid) In other words, discipline must be observed and unity must be preserved—the discipline and unity of the Party, not of factions—this is what people must uphold, even when they may be dissenting from the prevailing Party line or a particular Party policy. Thus, Mao says: “as long as they do not break discipline, as long as they are not carrying on any secret factional activities, we should always allow them to speak and even if they should say the wrong things we should not punish them. If people say the wrong things they can be criticized, but we should use reason to convince them.”(ibid)
All this is related to another crucial principle that Mao emphasizes: “Very often the ideas of the minority will prove to be correct. History abounds with such instances. In the beginning truth is not in the hands of the majority of people, but in the hands of a minority.” (ibid) But, again, the grasping of the truth and winning people to the truth will not be served—it will be undermined—by the existence of factions within the Party. And for this reason, the practice of the Chinese Communist Party, under Mao’s leadership, was to strive for a situation in which there was lively, vigorous debate and ideological struggle throughout the Party (and in society generally) but not to allow organized factions within the Party (at least not in any full-blown, institutionalized and “permanent” way).
The basic fact is that organized factions will lead to factionalism—they will lead to a situation where those adhering to these factions put the line and “unity” of their faction above those of the party. In certain exceptional cases, when the leadership of the party has been captured by opportunist elements who impose a counterrevolutionary line but it is not correct to simply and immediately abandon the party to such leadership and attempt to form a new party, it may then be necessary to organize a revolutionary faction in order to carry out the fight to defeat the opportunist line and leadership and re-establish the party on a revolutionary basis. But after a certain period of time, this struggle must be resolved one way or the other—either in the triumph of the revolutionary line and the re-establishment of the party on a revolutionary basis or in the complete triumph of the opportunist leadership and line—and in the latter case it is then necessary to break with such a party and to build a new party on the basis of revolutionary principles, of an MLM line, ideologically, politically, and organizationally. [back]
25. While the national question in India is complex and requires careful study, it can be said that the CRC's line departs from the basic Leninist understanding of the national question in the imperialist epoch as part of the world proletarian revolution, and the Leninist orientation of upholding the right of self-determination for oppressed nations but at the same time—particularly with regard to nations within a single state—striving to carry out a unified revolutionary struggle and to establish a single, unified revolutionary state over the largest possible territory on the basis of equality among nations (including, once again, the right of self-determination). The CRC line goes beyond upholding the right of self-determination in such circumstances and actually promotes separation, even to the point of insisting on separate revolutionary movements, separate new-democratic revolutions, for each of the oppressed nations. If such a line were actually put into practice, the result would be that the proletariat in the Indian state—which can and must be united, through the vanguard role of a single multi-national party, to play the leading role in one overall new-democratic revolution—would instead be split along national lines and in fact would be subordinated to non-proletarian class forces and programs within each separate nation. Here we see once more an illustration of the fact that the position of the CRC abandons the stand—the outlook and interests—of the proletariat and takes up a petit-bourgeois stand, in this case tailing bourgeois (and other exploiting class) forces among these oppressed nations within the Indian state. [back]