(from Communist Voice #26, May 1, 2000)
Dec. 7, 2000
. Greetings! I received your mailings lately. Thanks man!
. As for the anarchism in Communist Voice. Hell, anarchism means different things to different people. Most serious anarchists don't really consider Chomsky as anarchist. I don't! It's easy to tear into his thinking as a communist or an anarchist.
. I'm not into the fine art of theoretical squabbling/analysis, etc. I'm your basic bread and butter anarchist propagandist. I like to explain things simply and honestly -- like how most working class people think.
. My objective is to connect with people about political reality on a level that enthuses them to become active and helps them get beyond their induced inertia. Bogging down in theory and footnotes refuting what other guys say, to me -- as a worker -- is boring. It just doesn't hold my interest. I'm not a big "theoretician." I'm more of a writer, bristling with rage at this monstrous system, whose heart beats outside my chest half the time. I'm not willing to sign onto a "party" line or sacrifice my self-worth whatsoever. That's not to say I won't fight as hard or harder than anybody to destroy this evil capitalist system.
. I've studied communism a lot more extensively than anarchism. (As have most people who've bothered.) And there's a lot I [admire] about the fervor and insightfulness of serious communists. I worked very closely recently with the Oct. 22 people who at the core, were Maoists. We had a good working relationship, which is more than I can say whilst dealing with a lot of anarchists. But, to me, the dedicated, serious, brilliant anarchists, in this world -- they are few -- hold my interest the most of anybody because of their striving to [explain] truths rapidly developing on many, many levels. It's not good enough any more for me to settle for communist class analysis, etc. to fully cover all areas of human endeavor. Are anarchists pathetically wanting, squeamish, self-indulgent, petty, ignorant, etc., etc.? Of course! In this beyond sick society, who isn't? -- even the most nose-to-the-grindstone communists!
. We need millions and millions of people ready, willing and able to storm the barricades, nullify the political/military -- liberate the death KKKamps and stop the killing by this (capitalist) world. How do we do that? By giving them a sound (well done) communist scolding? Yeah, maybe, for [the low] class-conscious working people that will get them to the task! But really . . . what is it gonna take in this Jerry Springer madness of a society to rattle people into a type of conscious sanity?
. Lenin was an amazing man. I studied his ass, unremittingly for a long time. I've come to the conclusion that his best work -- 1917 -- was a conscious glomming on to anarchist ideals -- land, peace and bread -- the April Thesis and his major theoretical work of the period were a stark departure from his Bolshevik authoritarian cajoling. It was a realization that the awakened masses in a period of revolutionary explosiveness would be most mobilized by an anarchist clarion call. The Bolsheviks relied on the participation of dedicated anarchist revolutionaries at 1917 crunch time. To belittle the revolutionary thirst anarchism brings to the table is akin to Gore/Bush shitting about Nader -- not that Nader is anything close to a revolutionary (or an anarchist)!
. I believe strongly in solidarity. I work with a lot of . . . Afrikan Nationalist fighters, brother souljahs, etc. because they are revolutionaries, who, likewise wanna tear down the death machine. Do I agree with everything they say? Fuck, no! Do I respect the Hell outta them, anyway? Fuck, yes! If and when the "revolution" happens and miracle of miracles, communists and anarchist find themselves in a situation which the world is still viable and the fascists have been subdued, then we can worry about these fine debates that will [accompany] the course of post-revolution reconstruction.
. Until then, to me, it is an empty debate, for our enemies are killing and torturing our brothers
and sisters throughout our world.
. In your letter of December 7, you express your opinion of the article that appeared in the last issue of Communist Voice which criticized the anarchist views of Noam Chomsky ("Anarchism as unwitting support of the market: On the anarchist outlook of Noam Chomsky." CV, vol.6,#3, Nov.27, 2000.). Your letter expresses much sentiment for mass action, a sentiment I wholeheartedly share. Indeed it is thrilling to see fiery mass actions and new people stepping into the ranks of the struggle. As well, I agree with you that popular agitation exposing the capitalists and arousing the anger of the workers is very important.
. But I think your anarchist outlook causes you to reject other important tasks necessary for the
building of a revolutionary movement. For instance, your letter disparages the idea of
revolutionary theory and analysis as well as the idea of political-ideological struggle between the
different trends in the mass movement. An unfortunate consequence of these stands is that you
are unwilling to even bother to deal with what the article says about the anarchist outlook in
general or Chomsky in particular. Rather than show how the article's arguments against
anarchism are wrong, you avoid this, presumably because that would be delving into the dreadful
world of publicly discussing the differences between political trends and theories. You see such
things only as obstacles bogging down workers like yourself who burn with a desire to fight
capitalism. Your reluctance to deal with the article's arguments against anarchism goes to the
point that you contend that Chomsky's anarchism has nothing in common with the views of
"serious" anarchists like yourself. The irony of this last contention is that the views you express
against revolutionary theory and ideological struggle are so deeply ingrained in anarchism that,
despite whatever as yet unexplained disagreements you may have with Chomsky, Chomsky
argues very much like you do on these matters.
Are Chomsky's views permeated by anarchism?
. Since you imply that Chomsky has little to do with anarchism, let's look at this matter a little more closely. It's worth noting in passing that while you dismiss CV's criticism of Chomsky's anarchism as mere "theoretical squabbling," you reserve that right for yourself and others by drumming him out of the ranks of "serious" anarchism. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander! In fact, rather than just declare Chomsky's not a real anarchist, it would further the discussion to explain the basis of this opinion of yours just as we have explained our differences with anarchism and Chomsky.
. As for the question of anarchism's relation to Chomsky, our article critiqued numerous examples of Chomsky's version of typical anarchist stands, such as:
1) all the evils of capitalism and the market will be overcome if only government is eliminated and society is composed of small autonomous groups which perhaps might be loosely federated with one another;
2) illusions in small production and a failure to understand their connection to capitalism;
3) the root cause of oppression is the state and not the economic relations underlying the state;
4) that the workers' revolution will not need, for a time, a transitional state in order to keep down the overthrown bourgeoisie and mobilize the working masses into their role as masters and organizers of the new revolutionary society that will stepwise replace the left-over economic relations of capitalism with planned production by society as a whole;
5) rejection of Marxist historical materialism;
6) belittling of theory and ideological struggle.
. Besides this, there is no doubt that many activists who take their anarchism seriously promote Chomsky. For example, the article in question cites a 1995 interview with Chomsky by Kevin Doyle for the anarchist publication Red and Black Revolution which clearly looks upon Chomsky with favor. Or take the internet anarchist resource "infoshop.org" which calls itself "your online anarchist community". It carries "An anarchist FAQ [frequently asked questions] web page" created by "many anarchists around the world." On this web page one can find Chomsky quoted as an anarchist authority. It's also a fact that Chomsky was heavily influenced by Rudolf Rocker, one of the major anarcho-syndicalist figures in Europe and the United States in the first half of the 20th century. As a young man, Chomsky met personally with Rocker. And if one reads Rocker's works, it is clear that Chomsky's critique of Marxism, his dismissal of revolutionary theory, and his illusions in Adam Smith and the bourgeois Enlightenment figures as models for anti-capitalist revolutions bear a strong similarity to Rocker.
. This is not to deny that certain anarchists have bones to pick with Chomsky on this or that issue. But there's no legitimate reason to pretend that Chomsky is somehow irrelevant to anarchism, and therefore demolishing Chomsky's views leaves "serious" anarchism unscathed. You may disagree. But if you think that anarchism suffers by being linked to Chomsky, I would think you would welcome an opportunity to expose Chomsky rather than to complain about such things being a diversion.
. Perhaps an individual activist may personally not feel inclined or qualified to tackle ideological
issues. But this does not change the fact that the ideological struggle is unavoidable and not just
senseless squabbling. Chomsky advances arguments against theory, but has his own theories and
uses them to attack Marxist communism. The debate between Marxism and anarchism has gone
on at least since the struggle between Marx and Bakunin and many "serious" anarchists have
devoted themselves to trying to discredit Marxism. Chomsky's mentor Rocker devoted a major
work to disputing Marx's theory of historical materialism. Now if the whole 150 plus-year debate
between Marxism and anarchism has all been a waste of time, I could understand why you think
a CV article against Chomsky is too. But if you find something important in the anarchist
writings against Marxism, why is it that when CV critiques anarchism, this is mere "squabbling"?
Some anarchist views common to Chomsky and your letter
. While you say Chomsky is not considered a real anarchist by most serious anarchists, I find it interesting just how much, even in your brief letter, you strike the same themes as Chomsky. For instance, you denounce all political parties as an infringement on your individuality, and thus you reject not only bourgeois parties but revolutionary workers' parties as well. This individualism is one of the ways anarchism undermines organization, and more to the point, proletarian organization. Chomsky does the same thing when he rails against "authority" in general. But all organization implies authority in the sense that it requires each individual will to submit somewhat to the will of the group. There is the discipline of a dictatorial organization, and that of a democratic organization, but denouncing all discipline and centralism is throwing out the baby with the bath water. Yet Chomsky not only hits at various reactionary and arbitrary types of authority, but virtually any authority. Indeed, as the CV article notes, Chomsky quotes from Bakunin to the effect that even the "reddest" revolutionary democratic republic would allegedly only be an imposition on the workers.
. You and Chomsky also both belittle theoretical work. In Chomsky's case, he declares that it's impossible to discern underlying laws or principles in human societal development because "life is complex." With this drivel, he seeks to discredit Marx's historical materialism. Chomsky fails to note that the existence of different types of forces shaping human events by no means precludes there being primary causes, and that these primary forces shape the other influences. In line with Chomsky's thinking is the tract against historical materialism written by Chomsky's anarchist mentor, Rudolf Rocker. Rocker argues "it is clearly apparent that economics is not the center of gravity of social development in general." For "proof" he offers such absurdities as that supposedly the "economic interests" of the bourgeoisie had little to do with their historical positions on political matters or religion. Rocker goes so far as to create illusions in the periodic "peace" talk that has come from the bourgeoisie, arguing that this too shows how they can go against their economic interests. Of course if the economic interests of the bourgeoisie were no more important than any other factor in explaining the behavior of that class, then this might put a dent in the historical materialist concept of the relation between the economic system and the political, ideological and other influences. But as was showed in the CV article, the behavior of the bourgeoisie Rocker pointed to as contradicting its economic interests actually had everything to do with bourgeois economic development.
. I am still beginning to learn about your views, and perhaps some of the things Chomsky and Rocker argue about theory you might take issue with. But it's notable that you raise that you prefer the writings of certain "brilliant anarchists" because you don't "settle for communist class analysis, etc. to fully cover all areas of human endeavor." This sounds very similar to the Chomsky/Rocker idea that since there are many types of human endeavor, there can't be some underlying cause that explains the basic direction of developments in other spheres of activity. Making sense of the complex tangle of historical or current events by discerning the class interests involved is an example of the historical materialist approach. This is the Marxist class analysis that you find so lacking.
. You seem to base your opposition to historical materialism on the notion that to uphold class analysis means to ignore other factors. But that just isn't so. Marxism recognizes that there are other influences besides purely economic ones when it comes to explaining any particular human endeavor. Historical materialism is not a set of final answers to everything but the best tool yet discovered for examining societal development. Thus, far from being opposed to serious investigation of the various facets of society, historical materialism requires it. It's also true that different factors influence each other. Politics, for example, can influence economics. But it doesn't explain much to merely say economics influences politics and vice-versa. Marxism does not deny the existence of different factors influencing society and their mutual interaction, but has shown in this interaction there are fundamental causes which put their imprint on all the other factors.
. Marxism holds that the economic relations of society are the basis on which society's other
institutions and its ideas develop. These economic relations themselves undergo transformations
due to the ongoing development of the forces of production. If you believe you have discovered a
more fundamental factor explaining societal development, then state what it is. Chomsky, for all
his talk against theories of society, postulates innate human nature as the ultimate cause. But to
tout as superior to class analysis the idea that there's different areas of human endeavor besides
economic class interests means to throw up one's hands at finding what determines societal
Workers and the ideological struggle
. Part of your downplaying of theory involves belittling the ideological struggle between different trends in the mass movements. You say that this holds no interest for workers and is just so much petty bickering that only gets in the way of opposing the reactionaries. Instead, you say the only issue is for workers to get active. But the history of mass movements shows the more the workers activity grows, the more the issue of sorting out trends comes to the fore. Indeed the growth of class consciousness can be gauged by the extent to which the masses move from agreeing with just about any trend that says it's for the cause, to their distinguishing between trends and seeing the need for really revolutionary class organization.
. It is a great step forward for previously inactive masses to step into the ranks of struggle. But once they are involved in the movement, they are immediately confronted with the question of what political approach assists the struggle and the building of a revolutionary movement and what doesn't. Thus, while they may not at first appreciate the value of the ideological struggle, sooner or later there is no way they can avoid the question of the struggle of trends. The only real question is whether they should be helped in this, by finding ways to clarify the different political approaches, or whether to trail behind the most naive part of the movement by preaching that the struggle of trends in the movement is a diversion from hitting at the reactionaries. In other words, should we assist the masses in learning from the experience and lessons of the past? Or should we retard their political development and let them be deceived by whatever trends are prominent or fashionable at the moment though such trends may be politically bankrupt?
. Let's look at the workers' movement today. It's dominated by the AFL-CIO union bureaucracy
which works to keep the workers' militancy under wraps and is class collaborationist to the core.
Anyone who is serious about strengthening the workers' struggle must not only try to find ways
to mobilize the workers against the bosses, but also find ways to build organization among the
workers that does not rely on the union misleaders. But the story doesn't end there. There is also
no shortage of left-wing groups calling themselves socialist, or communist, or revolutionary,
which create illusions in this or that bureaucrat, or pretend that with a little push by the
rank-and-file, the present pro-capitalist union structures will become fighting class organizations
of the workers. Thus it's not really possible to build a revolutionary trend among the workers
without not only combating the trade union bureaucrats, but also the ideas put forward by such
leftists. While anarchists like yourself may not like the AFL-CIO hierarchy, to the extent that you
downplay the struggle between trends in the workers' movement you inadvertently play into their
Theory and anti-capitalism
. Theoretical issues are also very important matter in the present series of protests against the international capitalist trade agreements and organizations like the WTO, the IMF/World Bank, and the FTAA. For instance, one of the issues coming up is what exactly is capitalism. A section of protesters takes up slogans against capitalism, which is a good. But at the same time, there is much confusion about what capitalism is and what the alternative to it is. Often capitalism is identified only with neo-liberalism but not recognized in its more reformist forms. Or it may be understood as Chomsky does: simply the more powerful corporations with lots of government assistance but not small production and maybe not the market itself. Of course one may argue that even if such confusion exists, it doesn't matter much because the crimes driving the protests are committed by the big capitalists and their lackey politicians. Yes, the big corporations are the one's with real power, they're the big criminals. But what about the issue of what is the alternative to the present neo-liberal onslaught? If only neo-liberal policy is identified with capitalism, then one might see protectionism as the answer to free trade or have illusions that a bit more state intervention and regulation would reform away capitalism. If capitalism is seen only as big business, then perhaps salvation lies in small business. The idea of autonomous co-ops which exchange goods between each other is the anarchist echo of the small producer alternative.
. Marx spent many years studying the laws of development of capitalism and his theory has a great deal of relevance for those seeking a revolutionary alternative. Among other things Marxist theory shows why small production is doomed to give rise to capitalism. Moreover, if the revolutionary activists are going to promote that the workers should sacrifice for the cause of overthrowing capitalism offering solid evidence that an alternative to the market is achievable is invaluable. In this regard, Marx showed how trends operating under capitalism were themselves providing a basis for a new economic system, socialism. Marx did not rely on guesses about the basic features of the new society, nor did he invent a system based on some eternal principles of what is good for society. Rather he showed where historical trends were actually leading. Thus, Marxist theory showed that the desire of the oppressed to be free from class exploitation was more than just a wish and pointed to the basic tasks involved in order to make the transition to socialism. In contrast, anarchist opponents of historical materialism like Chomsky who consider it impossible to figure out anything about where societal development is heading can offer only hopes and guesses about the future.
. The fact that activists today are raising the issue of anti-capitalism presents an excellent
opportunity to develop discussion of the ultimate goals of the class struggle. Unfortunately you
argue against this, postponing such discussion until the revolution is already a fact. We say the
issue has already been raised by the activists and they should be encouraged to look deeply into
the issue of what capitalism is and how it can replaced. Along these lines, today there exists a
major issue of developing the critique of the revisionist state-capitalism which paraded under
communist colors in the former Soviet Union, and still hangs on by a thread in China and Cuba.
Such state-capitalist systems are still touted by the bulk of Trotskyists, the Maoists and others. If
the masses are to be inspired to revolutionary thoughts, we must be able to explain why these
ostensibly workers' states were really a new form of capitalist society.
Anarchist theory vs. reforms
. Another example of the why theory is important can be seen from Chomsky's stand on reforms. Chomsky supports certain government measures that would somewhat alleviate the suffering of the masses. But at the same time he openly acknowledges that this can only be done by violating his anarchist beliefs. In his book Power and prospects, p.73-74, Chomsky writes about the relation between his goals and his vision. By "vision" he means what an ideal future society would be like, and by "goals" he means those reforms that are in reach today. Chomsky writes: "In particular, the anarchist vision, in almost every variety, has looked forward to the dismantling of state power. Personally, I share that vision, though it runs directly counter to my goals."
. Chomsky's "short-term goals are to defend and even strengthen elements of state authority
which, though illegitimate in fundamental ways, are critically necessary right now to impede the
dedicated efforts to 'roll back' the progress that has been achieved in extending democracy and
human rights." As an anarchist, Chomsky wrongly assumes that having the goal of abolishing
state power requires one to oppose every measure by the state today. But he is right about
anarchist doctrine, which opposes anything to do with the state and is suspicious of fighting for a
reform as supposedly undermining the revolution. This shows that theoretical views are not a
sideline matter but greatly impact how one deals with the mass movement, and in particular why
anarchist theory negatively impacts the day-to-day struggles of the masses.
Theory and agitation
. A disregard for theory and the struggle of political trends to weaken mass agitation too. I thank
you for sending two leaflets of yours ("Voting IS Fraud!" and "The Clinton's go to Vietnam").
They express outrage against the capitalist authorities. There are also some problems though. I
won't go into all the particular political problems, but rather just raise one general point. It seems
neither leaflet has anything to say about what the masses should do. Actually, there's not even a
reference to the presently existing struggles. Nor is there a reference to longer-term goals like the
overthrow of capitalism or some idea of a revolutionary society. This is evidently a reflection of
your idea that all the workers need is to get fired-up about the present state of things. The
question of what sort of trend the workers need to build is not dealt with. It's not a matter of
agitational leaflets necessarily going on about the ideological basis of the revolutionary trend, but
that the lack of concern with ideology is reflected in a lack of attention to recommending to the
masses any distinct approach for their struggle. Lack of concern for political trends thus leads, in
this case, to having no path forward for the workers.
Did Lenin follow anarchism in 1917?
. Despite your condemnation of ideological struggle as "squabbling," it seem you cannot resist some pokes at the communist stand of Lenin. I was amazed that you claim Lenin in 1917 sort of went over to an anarchist stand. Why the slogan "Land, peace and bread" in itself demonstrates anarchism is anyone's guess. Variants of this slogan have been given by all sorts of different trends in different revolutions and struggles. There's nothing uniquely anarchist in it. But Lenin's use of the slogan at the time you are referring to has nothing to do with anarchism. Lenin saw that the bourgeois Provisional government that had come to power after the February 1917 revolution in Russia was not going to deliver on any of these mass demands and that these demands could be won only by removing the bourgeoisie from power and establishing a revolutionary state power of the laboring masses. For instance, in the article "Dual Power", written in April 1917, Lenin begins as follows:
. "The basic question of every revolution is that of state power. Unless this question is understood, there can be no intelligent participation in the revolution, not to speak of guidance of the revolution." (Collected Works, vol.24, p.38.)
. Such as stand is about as anti-anarchist as you can get. Lenin stood for the abolition of classes and the state. But he advocated, like all real Marxists, that the abolition of the state required the abolition of classes, and such a task could not simply be accomplished overnight by the victorious revolution, but would require a whole period of time. For this reason, and to keep the overthrown exploiters down, a state power was still necessary for a time. But this transitional state was to be unlike any other in history in that it mobilized and represented the overwhelming majority, the working masses, and in doing so, was preparing conditions for its own demise as a state.
. You don't bother to say what views in Lenin's theoretical work in 1917 constitutes anarchism, so it's hard to know what you are thinking about. But it is not too hard to see how Lenin's writings in this period, and not just in this period, are antithetical to anarchism. Let's look at two issues which may perhaps be on your mind. In the period you are referring to, the bourgeois Provisional Government was against the land seizures going on by the peasantry and demanded that the land question be settled by an agreement between the peasants and the landlords. Lenin supported the land seizures and rejected the policy of delaying the transfer of land until a deal could be reached with the landlords as the bourgeois government wanted. Lenin was accused of anarchism for this stand. But this accusation was nonsense as Lenin himself explained. Lenin saw the takeovers as justice and supported the rule of the local peasant majority over the landlords. At the same time, Lenin recognized the need for the revolutionary masses to eventually establish a central national government that would, as representing the majority of the masses of the entire country, have overall say on various issues dealing with land, land that would be the nationalized property of the people. Lenin saw the local governing bodies being set up by the peasants in the course of their struggle against the landlords as part of the process by which the national, centralized revolutionary power would be established. But Lenin's stand for such a central revolutionary state power had nothing in common with anarchism. As Lenin declared in his May 22, 1917 "Speech on the agrarian question":
. "Anarchists are those who deny the need for a state power, whereas we say that a state power is absolutely necessary. . . . All we want is for that power to be wholly and exclusively in the hands of the majority of workers', soldiers', and peasants' deputies. That is where we differ from other parties. By no means do we deny the need for a firm state power; we only say that all landed estates must pass into the hands of the peasants without payment, in accordance with a decision of the local peasant committee adopted by the majority . . .." (Lenin's Collected Works, vol. 24, p.489)
. There were also certain false charges of anarchism directed at Lenin for his writings on the state in April 1917. This was the period of "dual power" where Soviets which arose out of the revolutionary struggle existed side-by-side with the bourgeois Provisional Government. The Soviets had the potential to become the sole power, a revolutionary power of the toilers. But the petty-bourgeois parties which dominated the Soviets at that time were afraid to take power and preferred to cooperate with the bourgeois authorities. Lenin therefore advocated campaigning within the Soviets for a new policy which would break completely with the bourgeoisie and have the Soviets assume sole power. Lenin replied to those who considered this policy anarchism as follows:
. "Nor can it [Lenin's policy] stray into the swamp of anarchism, for anarchism denies the need for a state and state power in the period of transition from the rule of the bourgeoisie to the rule of the proletariat, whereas I, with a precision that precludes any possibility of misrepresentation, advocate the need for a state in this period, although in accordance with Marx and the lessons of the Paris Commune, I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people." ("Letter on Tactics", Collected Works, p.49)
. Lenin's stand on the state in 1917 was not something new for him and was fully in line with that of Marx and Engels. His advocacy of a revolutionary state as a transition to a classless and stateless communist society gets nothing from anarchism except virulent opposition.
. Your letter has raised numerous important issues and though we disagree on many things, I thank you for writing and expressing your views. I also hope that along with the seething anger you have against the present capitalist order and your desire to see workers get more active, you will consider how attention to the ideological struggle and theoretical work will strengthen such efforts.
Mark, for CV
. In our last issue, we reprinted an exchange between Majdur Travail and Joseph Green concerning the zigzags of the RCP,USA. Travail particularly pointed to their apologies for not living up to their own slogan "Revolution in the 80's, Go for it!", their anti-gay line, and their differences with other supporters of the CP of Peru--Sendero Luminoso, and attributed it to their supposed lack of loyalty to various Maoist slogans such as protracted people's war. He ridiculed them for believing that there were objective conditions that determined when revolution took place, calling this the "general crisis" theory.
. J. Green pointed out how the RCP,USA's line was not the result of abandoning Maoism, but stemmed from Maoism. He connected their problems with the fallacies of the Maoist "three worlds theory". He pointed out that the problem isn't that RCP,USA has recognized that there are objective conditions for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie, but that they don't know what revolutionary work in slow, nonrevolutionary conditions should be.
. Although Travail never replied to the criticisms made of Maoism, discussion continued, and a correspondence developed between Travail and Frank, a comrade of the Communist Voice Organization with a good deal of personal experience with the RCP,USA and its predecessors. Below we reproduce Frank's further elaboration of the history of the RCP, which deals especially with their long-term reluctance to clarify the different political trends which exist in the mass movementsinstead, they uncritically fawn on that section of the movement in which they work. He also showed how this and other RCP practices were connected to their idea that the working class wouldn't support communist work.
. Travail was at first friendly, but he later became abusive and broke off the discussion after
Frank reviewed some of the history of the controversies in the US in Maoist circles over
protracted people's war, and put forward the view that this slogan didn't orient revolutionary
work in the US. This latter part of the discussion, on protracted people's war, will be carried in
the next issue of CV.
by Frank, CVO
December 11, 2000
Dear Majdur Travail,
. I received your address and correspondence from J. Green some time ago and have wanted to write to you. But until now I haven't had time. . . . [but] I would welcome a chance to exchange views with you on some of the controversial issues. So, not being shy (in this case at least), I'll give you some opinions on one of the issues you and Joseph have been corresponding about.
Regarding the opportunism of the RCP-USA:
. I was actually in the first RU collective here in 1971 and split from this trend a couple of years later. (I gave some views on this trend as it existed in its earlier years in Communist Voice #21---available on the web site. If you haven't looked at them I would encourage you to do so.) In the years since I've been involved in many struggles where the RCP was also active, observed their political activities, read their literature (now and then at least), argued with them on various issues, etc. However, the most "recent" day-to-day relationship I had with them was during the Gulf War (not very recent anymore).
. It goes without saying that I consider this trend revisionist. One of the clearest manifestations of this in my view is its refusal to really clarify the politics of the differing political trends which dominate the mass movements . . . to the activists involved in these movements. For example, last year Orpheus and others hailed the anti-WTO protests and filled pages and pages of RW with blow-by blow accounts of what happened, interviews with protestors, pictures, etc. Of course many others did these things too, both revolutionaries and reformists. But the RCP also militantly denounced the capitalist system which has given rise to the WTO and said we need a revolution. Not so many trends did this although, for one, the CVO did. Yet is this all there is to proletarian revolutionary agitation? I don't think it is. I think the vast majority of last-year's 40 or 50 thousand protesters are under the influence of the politics of the AFL-CIO/Sweeney wing of the Democratic Party, or Nader, or anarchism, or anarcho-syndicalism. Of course some of these people are holding to these politics more tightly than others; and probably most of them uphold wrong ideas promoted by all four trends mentioned. But taking up revolutionary politics means seeing the fallacies of these politics and abandoning them. Thus it seems to me that a big part of really revolutionary work involves exposing over and over again how the dominating politics and organizations work against the aims the masses are struggling for. The working class and other oppressed people may come into the streets to protest various capitalist outrages, and may even mount rebellions like those in L.A. against police brutality, but without politics opposed to those of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois misleaders protests and even rebellions (with all their mass heroism) won't lead to a socialist revolution, or even a sustained militant mass struggle. And it's here that the RCP utterly fails. In its agitation against the WTO, for example, it criticizes no one, not even the AFL-CIO. Yet the AFL-CIO's "fair trade" slogan, and the ideas upon which it's premised, is a very big road-block to the masses taking a political stand independent of the bourgeoisie, and the RCP does nothing!
. Sure, occasionally (like every few years) the RCP will publicly criticize this or that idea which undermines the development of a mass movement. But even then it refrains from identifying the source of the erroneous idea by introducing the discussion with "some people think", etc. In general it just lets the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois trends have the political field. But this isn't caving in to them, oh no. And just to prove it the RCP raises the red flag higher than anyone else, puts pictures of guns all over its publications, and speaks the most r-r-r-revolutionary language.
. Naturally there's more to revolutionary work than just agitation, and there's more to agitation than just the issue I've been discussing, but I think it's such an important issue that I'd like to pursue it a while longer by giving some historical perspective to it and ending with at least the beginnings of an argument that the RCP opposes the struggle against opportunism and revisionism in theory.
. In the R.U. days we used to pay a lot of attention to the slogan "without a people's army the people have nothing". I deeply believed this, gave speeches on the subject, and was given the main responsibility in the region involved in creating one. But over time I concluded that the R.U. (and later the RCP) postured with guns while leaving the decisive thing out---raising a political army of the workers and other oppressed people. Now Lenin used the phrase "raise a political army" in reference to what the communists should be doing in the almost daily street demonstrations of 1917 St. Petersburg. I've often thought about what he meant and concluded the answer is best demonstrated by Lenin's many agitational articles of that year. If you look at them you see that over and over they expose the sabotaging role of the politics of the Cadets, Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Plekhanov's group, etc., etc., on the practical issues the masses were aroused over (like the war, the evolution of the provisional government, etc.) The stands and activity of these trends were contrasted to those of the Bolsheviks on the practical issues, and from there Lenin often drew out points about the class nature of these trends, or about the fallaciousness of one or two of their main ideas. I think this was the right approach.
. Unlike 1917 (or the late 60s and early 70s in this country) this is not a period of mass upsurge. Certainly mass struggles continue to break out (as against the WTO and similar institutions, against racist atrocities, etc.) and this will continue. But for more than 20 years we've been living in a time of decline and lull in the mass movements, liquidationism and renegacy in the revolutionary movement . . . and theoretical crisis. This is a call to fight liquidationist theories and resolve outstanding theoretical issues (to the extent that this can be done without further really mass proletarian revolutionary experiences---which can clarify a lot) and a tiny organization like ours can't do everything at once. Therefore we must harbor our bullets insofar as participating in the mass movements which do arise is concerned or we won't be able to do what we think is decisive now. Even so, we don't do bad in the mass movements and we plan on doing better---and doing better is what we're all about. You might want to check out again our agitation and reports from last year's anti-WTO events to see what I'm talking about (in CV Vol. 6, No. 1). There's also a new report from me on the CV web site regarding one of last week's anti-WTO activities in Seattle and our participation in it. If you do this you'll see that we don't plead "present conditions" to abandon revolutionary work (which must involve the struggle against opportunism), and rather than abandoning efforts to move our political army away from the opportunist and revisionist political trends we probably devote more ink to it than anything else.
. But why does the RCP cave in to the dominant political forces? The first point on this is that from its very inception in the early 70s this trend has always done this. In those days it may have been more noticeable because, except for the Bruce Franklin faction, it didn't wave red flags and guns around as much. It justified this opportunism on the basis of upholding the united front tactics expounded at the 7th Congress of the C.I. But this was a revisionist congress which advocated alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie. Proletarian independence was to be given up.
. To their credit, many hundreds of R.U./RCP cadres went into the factories and other large-scale capitalist enterprises to organize in the 1970s. Their activity was militant trade-unionist (or "left" economist) rather than communist, even though they occasionally conducted some work against the line of the AFL-CIO which wasn't bad (against the AFL-CIO's "buy American" campaign for example). In general, they set up various organizations to struggle for economic demands and the trade-union big-shots went wild against them, castigated them as dual-unionist, etc. In the main, if I remember correctly, their response was not very political: "They're not militant, we are. Besides this we work to link up struggles on many fronts and they don't."
. But working-class organizing is not easy, and the objective movement has its ups and downs. So, with the line they were pursuing the (now) RCP cadres could recruit people into the organizations they were building (when a particular economic struggle was on an upswing), they could mobilize people for actions, but if they recruited people into the party they were recruiting "left" economists rather than people who had been schooled in communist analysis, tactics and theory. When the objective movements began to go into a lull in the latter 70s the cadres came under a lot of pressure as the seeming quick victory in working-class organizing began to evaporate. This was a discouraging situation, and, since the organization tended to train people to have an action-group mentality*(1) rather than a Marxist-Leninist outlook a lot of demoralization developed and a split (to the right) occurred in 1978.
. Moreover, these were years in which the political trends which came out of the movements of the 60s and early 70s and proclaimed themselves followers of Mao-Tse-Tung thought were struggling between each other over what is Marxism-Leninism and what is revisionism. In general, the RCP didn't want this struggle and just hurled insults ("ultra-leftists", "sectarians", etc.) against the truly leftists involved in it (i.e., our trend). And when an important one of these trends (the October League) clearly revealed itself as social-chauvinist the RCP leaders wouldn't attack it as such and went into contortions to defend the Chinese-revisionist ideological premises upon which this social chauvinism was based: the theory of "three worlds". This struggle in the Marxist-Leninist movement, which the RCP never wanted, put additional pressures on it.
. So, by the early 1980s (I would have to search for the exact year) the RCP responded to the internal demoralization and unease, and external pressures, by just abandoning its work in the places of production while waving the red flag more ferociously than anyone else. It floated in society and trailed behind anything that looked militant, especially among the black people and youth (trailing while saying "what we really need is a revolution, join us and fight for one!", that is, belittling the actual struggles, not deigning to work out revolutionary tactics to lead them forward, while screaming about the need for revolution.) The RCP had now taken off the reformist clothes it wore in the days it worked in the factories and revealed that underneath it wore anarchist underwear. In typical anarchist fashion it attempted to arouse the masses with publicity stunts (of which it organized hundreds), "confronted" the allegedly backward workers with the fact that they needed a revolution (which the RCP, like the anarchists, sees as cataclysmic event that's just going to happen one day), and more. Common to both phases was opposition to a Leninist tactical orientation to arouse the masses of workers and other oppressed people. This was elitist petty-bourgeois revolutionism substituting itself for the needs of the mass struggles, or skipping over the necessary work needing to be done.
. The RCP gave up its publicity stunting (probably because it was costly in terms of arrests) but nothing indicates that it's given up the basic system of ideas behind this. In fact it appears to have changed very little in the past 19-20 years. Members leave and it's gotten smaller, but new people do join (at least for awhile). But that's also true of other trends. It just reflects the fact that even in these relatively quiet times people still conclude that revolutionary change is necessary. Regarding the RCP, I think it shows that this particular brand of politics actually has a social basis in society. Problem is that this basis is not proletarian. Even though some RCP'ers may be workers, in my view this basis is a section of the petty-bourgeoisie which is appalled by the crimes of imperialism but doesn't get far beyond that. RCP's "politics" (which actually opposes revolutionary Marxist politics) appeal to them but also ultimately fail them for without raising a political army of the oppressed there's no chance of a fundamental change, no chance of a proletarian revolution.
. So returning to the question of why the RCP caves in to the dominant political trends in the mass movements: This trend never had faith that the American working class was capable of anything but practical economic struggles and that's why it opportunistically approached the workers with "left" economism (which is not to say one shouldn't participate in the practical economic struggles, far from it). And later it just threw in the towel regarding working-class organizing. Well, if the largest class in society is incapable of overthrowing imperialism in a really liberating revolution that puts one in a bind insofar as the future is concerned. Perhaps one should see what the Hintons, Saids, Chomskys, and other "respectable" movement figures are saying and doing (essentially the radical liberal-bourgeoisie). Perhaps an alliance can be struck with them. That's the instinct. But to make an alliance one has to hold one's tongue insofar as publicly criticizing their wrong politics. That the RCP does.
. It defends this with the revisionist ideas of the Seventh Congress of the CI about united front work, and with the revisionist ideas of Mao Zedong (in my opinion). Under the slogan of "unite all who can be united against the main enemy" it abandons the struggle against opportunism and revisionism and seeks pragmatic alliances. (Which means the masses of people are going to continue to be split rather than united; and that any blows they deliver to the bourgeoisie will not be fatal.) In fact the RCP sees opportunism as a "middle force" to be united with and has denounced the struggle against it as "ultra-left".
. I don't think Lenin should be quoted out of context, nor do I think we should foster an atmosphere in the movement which places Lenin, Marx or anyone else above criticism, nor do I think everything Marx or Lenin ever said was even right; but based on my own experiences in the revolutionary movement I think the following couple of quotations from Lenin succinctly sum up the correct standpoint:
. "The most dangerous of all in this respect are those who do not wish to understand that the fight against imperialism is a sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism." (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Ch. X)
. "Opportunism is our principle enemy . . . it has been shown in practice that the working-class activists who follow the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie themselves. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not remain in power." ("Report on the International Situation and the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International", CW, vol. 31, p. 231)
. These ideas are repeated again and again throughout Lenin's writings, and the party he worked for consistently put them into practice while it was still revolutionary. Moreover, relavent to the question of Maoism is the fact that the R.S.D.L.P. consistently practiced them during the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution as well (for example, in the great polemic against the various trends of Narodniks, the liberal-bourgeoisie, etc., as well as the economists).
. Now in my view if one honestly stands on the side of the proletariat he or she can disagree with Lenin's ideas on how to build the revolutionary movement, argue against it, etc., and still maintain a certain revolutionary integrity. But then of course they shouldn't call themselves Leninists, and most of them don't. The RCP (and Mao) on the other hand, says its Leninist while at the same time opposing the very core of Lenin's ideas on how to build the mass movements. This is revisionism.
. I think you have the view that the opportunism of the RCP is a result of its departing from true
Maoism. I think it's the result of the RCP's pretty faithful adherence to Maoism. I recently dug
out Mao's "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People" because I remembered
that it had what were in my opinion some of his clearest expressions of revisionism regarding
marching hand-in-hand with the bourgeoisie to socialism, regarding what attitude should be
taken toward the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties (which are never identified), and other
matters. What I've reread so far entirely confirms this. If you wished, we could perhaps both do
some study of this pamphlet and exchange views on what it's saying.
December 12, 200
. Thanks again for writing. Your letter came through perfectly this time. I would have to say that I pretty much agree with what you have said. One of the things that I have noticed about the CV is that you are not afraid to write back to people and express your views. This may not sound like much on the surface, but it really is. It tends to indicate that you understand the subject on which you or conversing. But not only that, it tends to say that you are open to the Proletariat in terms of joining and building a struggle.
. This is in fact a very rare phenomenon. For instance, I tried to get the RCP-USA to comment on the the peace negotiations between the CPN-Maoist and the Nepal government before I published an article on Indymedia criticizing the RCP-USA for suppressing the news (since for the same week and the preceding week they published articles saying the Peoples War in Nepal was "intensifying"--in other words they've been gilding their lily off peoples wars in other parts of the world and trying to make it look as if the the RCP-USA was involved in something "really big" and they were really going to "go for it" someday). At any rate, [a local RCP-USA person] e-mailed me and said "I don't know who the fuck you are, but take me off of your mailing list." I wrote her a very short respectful inquiry and that was the response that I received. So, I published her response to my question and repeatedly put out calls on Indymedia asking "When will the RCP-USA respond to our real questions?" As you probably could guess they never responded and they never respond to ANY question the masses really put to them. It seems now that their selling the photographs Li Onesto took during her vacation in Nepal for $15 to $35 each!--this is another topic altogether, but I'm sure you catch my drift there.
. By the same token I've run into similar problems with other parties WWP and others which are hardly worth mentioning, but I was some what suprised to get the same cold shoulder from the MPP (Peru Peoples Movement)--a representative of Sendero Luminoso in the USA--even though I personally know some of their activists in NYC (they split from the RCP-USA, just like I did). Although MPP didn't tell me to "fuck-off" in response to my question about the peace negotiations in Nepal "what's you opinion of the recent peace negotiations . . ." and to my inquiry into the capture of Comrade Cirilo--reported by the BBC ,at first they said the bourgeois press was perpetuating a "hoax". When I inquired more pointedly "Do you mean Comrade Cirilo doesn't exist? Do you think the peace negotiations in Nepal are a "hoax"?" they simply replied "I think we answered all of you questions in the last e-mail . . . we don't engage on online debates" and then they offered to sell my whatever news they have on the situation in Peru for $15. So in response to that I drilled on these issues JG has raised in the recent issue of CV--about economics, labor money, and the theoretical crisis in the left on these issues "how do plan to combat the rise of state capitalism. . .?" I have yet to hear from them and suppose I probably never will. But time and time again I get the same treatment Communist Party of Lebanon . . . PFLP . . . ditto . . . nothing.
. Anyway all this goes to show that they don't know what they are talking about half the time, they can't offer theoretical solutions to current problems . . . let alone concrete solutions to concrete problems. Underlying this though there is a much more subtle problem at its root. They have abandoned the theory of "dialectics" they don't even engage in idealist dialectics qua Plato or Hegel. Dialectical Materialism has been forgotten altogether. They don't realize that the dialogue with the Proletariat that the CV is engaged in is the very essence of dialectical materialism. As you have said by way of example in criticizing various opportunisic trends and revisionist, anarchistic, petty-bourgeois, etc. They say "struggle is the life of the Party", but they lie when they say it and underneath that is the fear that new leaders will arise within the movement and displace the sedentary figures at the top. In the last analysis they've created a form of "left wing" enterprise, petty-bourgeous small time shop keepers. In their organizations, instead of being democratic and having the defeated leader step down to be replaced by leaders with a more correct line, the entire Party begins to spin on the Bourgeois legal theories of "private association" and "private property". In otherwords, the RCP or WWP or what have you, is a private club who can decide who can be a member and who cant. The bookstores and printing presses, offices, etc "private proberty" bank accounts business licences...etc. to a certain degree bureaucrat capitalism, if not state capitalism, has taken over their movements and just as the "family relation" is a money relation the "Party relation" is a money relation too.
. So much for that for now. I think my main point, personally, on Maoism is the "Without an army the people have nothing" and "without the conquest of power all is illusion" I also think that in a tactical sense the theory of Protracted Peoples War is a superior military maneuver and we should not think "things can be done very quickly"--(which, incidently is a line that the RCP puts out from time to time). But there is also something in Maoist works that treats the process of war and the engagement of the enemy as a process of transforming the revolutionary warrior internally. We can spend more time on this later.
. . . .
Thanks again for writing,
(1). Continuing the tendency of SDS in the 60s, the RCP leaders invariably relied on psyching up the cadres for the next big action or campaign being planned with moralistic appeals rather than scientific analysis. Mao's Combat Liberalism or On Practice might be read again and again but building a party of Marxist-Leninist scientific thinkers was not done. Serious theoretical study and research was opposed with pat phrases like "stroking the arrow but not shooting it" (e.g., not being active). Thus when the big action was over there was always a void and demoralization (and more reading of Combat Liberalism, etc.) until someone came up with a new big action or campaign.Fk. (Return to text)
Last modified: October 15, 2001.