THE NEW COMMUNIST PARTY.
EDITORIAL (CP Alliance).
We decided to reprint this document because the tasks it set out continue to have a vital importance some years after the controversy within the New Communist Party which gave rise to it in 1981.
"Economism, Tailism and the New Communist Party" was the shattering response of a small group of former N.C.P. members to the rampant opportunism of the N.C.P. leadership in regard to Lenin's view that it was necessary to establish a revolutionary paper for, and aimed at the level of the advanced workers. This view is itself based on the theory that within the working class there are different levels of political class consciousness, and the understanding that one of the features of opportunism is the striving to adapt Marxism to the ideological backwardness of the lower levels of consciousness.
We have decided to reissue the first part of Proletarian No. 1, because we believe and know that if the the concept of levels of political consciousness is not assimilated, the goal of founding a revolutionary paper aimed at the level of the advanced workers will not be achieved. Without practice basing itself on this theory, there will be no party of the class and there can be no talk of a successful workers' revolution, which leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This was the crucial idea which the N.C.P. leaders rejected, and for which a number of N.C.P. members were expelled from that party, whilst others resigned in protest and sympathy, adding further weight to the non-Marxist-Leninist credentials of the N.C.P. These individuals formed the Proletarian group, and were later joined by others.
Proletarian, however, certainly did not achieve its primary goal of founding a revolutionary paper aimed at the level of the advanced workers, and raising those at an average level of political understanding to an advanced level.
One of the reasons for the failure of Proletarian to realise its aims was that the project of winning over and uniting the most advanced stratum of workers came into conflict with petit-bourgeois characteristics which the group had failed to rid itself of. This was clearly an undertaking which could not and cannot be achieved by opportunist methods. A second crucial reason was that, while Proletarian upheld Lenin's views about the need for a revolutionary paper at the level of the advanced stratum of workers, it nonethless failed to break from revisionism. And as can be seen from the Preface of the document, Proletarian paradoxically saw its audience at that time in the rank and file of the C.P.G.B.
The revisionist-led collapse of the Soviet Union, which became apparent to even Proletarian's leadership with the rise of Gorbachov, contributed to the demise of Proletarian. At the time Proletarian was, or wanted to be, the most pro-Soviet of all the groups on the left. Pro-Sovietism was its basic credo, a policy pursued out of genuine loyalty to the Soviet Union and an opportunist hope that they would gain Soviet recognition.
Ignoring the fact that revisionists held the leadership of the CPSU, Proletarian maintained that the CPSU was "a principled, Marxist-Leninist Party". Upholding this incorrect position was the basic criterion for membership of the group, which at its highest point reached a membership of around twenty.
It was the failure to break with revisionism which brought about the collapse of the Proletarian group. However, the absolute correctness of Proletarian on the question of the revolutionary paper and the inspired and compelling manner in which the N.C.P. leaders were exposed on this matter, should not be obscured by the apparently authoritative statements made by Proletarian about the principled nature of the CPSU.
Perhaps also, the mistakes of the anti-revisionist movement contributed to the inability of Proletarian to discern the true nature of Krushchevite-Brezhnevite revisionism in the former Soviet Union.
Economism, Tailism And the New Communist Party, in its upholding of Lenin's position on the need for a revolutionary paper aimed at the level of the advanced workers, and its conscious recognition of the different levels of political class consciousness within the working class, is what Proletarian should be remembered for, and not for its misplaced loyalty to the Soviet revisionists.
In answering the question 'Where to Begin' in the process of re-establishing the Communist Party, the answer can only be that Marxist-Leninists must now proceed to found and develop a revolutionary paper around which the advanced workers will group themselves, as the first stage and necessary condition for the formation of the Communist Party.
Now, read the original journal:
ECONOMISM, TAILISM AND THE NEW COMMUNIST PARTY
Although the New Communist Party is a subject which many class conscious workers in the C.P.G.B. regard as being fit only for the dustbin of British political history, it nevertheless cannot be denied that the formation and development of this organisation remains one of the major events of the communist movement in Britain. Indeed, if the document produced here is read thoroughly, it must be agreed that the split which took place in the Communist Party in 1977 was not just a significant political development but was rather the most important event in British working class politics since World War Two.
When the Surrey District of the C.P.G.B. led by Sid French decided to lead the 'breakaway' group and found the New Communist Party, a deep rift appeared quite suddenly amongst what, up until that moment, many communists had assumed to be an ideologically united minority in the C.P.G.B. who were loyal to the principles of Marxism-Leninism and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On the one hand those who believed it correct to stay in the C.P.G.B. and continue the fight against Eurocommunism from within regarded the 'breakaway' as betrayal and desertion in the face of the class enemy. On the other hand, those who rushed to join the N.C.P., believing the struggle in the C.P.G.B. to be a lost cause and thus merely a waste of time, regarded those who refused to leave as misguided people who naively clung to the notion that the revisionist stranglehold on the party apparatus could be broken.
The differences between these two groups developed quickly into bitter, open hatred, particularly between their respective leading representatives. Standing between these two factions were those genuine communists who, bewildered by this sudden rivalry between comrades, either retired temporarily from the inner party struggle or gave their support to the N.C.P. in the hope that once open polemics could take place hetween communists on the central questions facing the working class Marxism-Leninism and the class struggle could be taken forward.
Since the time of the split the N.C.P. has remained isolated from the mainstream of the communist movement, its numbers gradually diminishing to the point whereby it may now be on the verge of collapse. In the C.P.G.B. however, the pro-Soviet forces have made no significant progress in the struggle against revisionism and in fact, have barely stood their ground. Why is this so? A not uncommon line of reasoning on this question is the idea that somehow the timing of the split was wrong, whilst, again there are those that argue that the split did irreparable damage to the communist movement in this country. Though there are elements of truth in both these arguments of themselves either separately or both together they do not sufficiently explain the continuing failure of both the N.C.P. and the forces in the C.P.G.B. to defeat revisionism and opportunism in this country.
There are many factors contributing to this failure but certainly the key factor is the theoretical backwardness of the British working class referred to by both Engels and Lenin and its concomitant lack of revolutionary experience. Doubtless many comrades would agree with this - including certain revisionists -- and precisely because of this such an argument of itself does not provide any substantial guidelines in pointing the way ahead. A more specific, detailed understanding of the nature and causes of revisionism is necessary in order to defeat it. This of course is a formidable task and one which has clearly exhausted many of the best proletarian minds in this country. As Lenin says:
'Every question 'runs in a vicious circle' because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding, and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain'.1
Those who have contributed to this document hold that the struggle around the question of the party paper which occurred in the N.C.P. revealed the principle weakness of the communist movement in this country and the main cause of its helplessness in the face of revisionism -- i.e. economism and tailism. In this sense the idea that the paper should be aimed at the advanced workers contains the key to understanding not just the amateurish, failed attempts of the N.C.P. to rouse those workers 'untainted' by revisionist ideas outside the C.P.G.B. but also the failure of the Soviet forces inside the C.P.G.B. to mount a successful ideological struggle against opportunism.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the term 'economism' is used in this work with the same meaning ascribed to it by Lenin --- an understanding of this can be gained primarily in the first half of this document. The term 'economism' is not used with the popularly distorted meaning ascribed to it by post-war revisionism -- i.e. as a slander against the materialist conception of objective laws of historical development.
(1) V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.502
THE THIRD CONGRESS OF THE NEW COMMUNIST PARTY: ECONOMISM ENSHRINED
At the Third Congress of the New Communist Party, Southampton Branch put forward a resolution that the party paper should be aimed at raising the level of politically advanced workers. The present content and character of the paper was criticised as being inadequate and economistic and it was pointed out that should the paper be changed in accordance with Lenin's views on its aims it would probably be necessary to replace the present editor (Dick Geldhart).
In his closing speech to the Congress Eric Trevett (General Secretary of the N.C.P.) came out completely against these proposals and the ideas they were based on, and implied that Southampton Branch were agents of imperialism. He also quite promptly declared that administrative measures would follow against members of Wandsworth Branch as soon as the Congress was over, and that unless Southampton Branch recanted their views administrative measures would also be used against them. In the 'New Worker' report on the Congress (6.12.81.) Dick Geldhart made the somewhat astonishing allegation that Southampton Branch had argued 'the problem was to find supermen -- advanced workers they called them in a parody of Leninism - but Congress resolutely rejected their elitist views. (The motion in actual fact was never put to the vote.) To the precise contrary, Congress believed, the issue was to advance Britain's lamentably backward working class '.
Since the Congress one Wandsworth Branch member has been expelled by the Central Committee and five have resigned in protest at this. The grounds for expulsion were 'constant opposition to the party line' (which line this refers to nobody is sure since there is no existing party policy which the expelled member disagrees with). Meanwhile the branch which actually moved this resolution has been subjected to crude interference. The Branch Secretary has been called before a Committee, to which, in contravention of all Leninist norms, no witnesses were allowed, and which has since recommended, and got, this comrade's expulsion by the Central Committee. The new Branch Secretary subsequently elected has also been expelled. On 7.6.82 virtually the whole of Southampton Branch were expelled, making a total so far of seven expulsions and five resignations in protest over this issue. However there still remain an increasing number of N.C.P. members who uphold Lenin's views on the revolutionary paper. Unless the leadership is to admit its completely mistaken views or attempt a more skillful opportunist manoeuvre than its present course yet more expulsions can therefore be expected. This document is being sent to as many members of the N.C.P. as possible on the assumption that people who are prepared to commit their lives to the cause of socialism by joining a revolutionary party are entitled to a full description of the nature and history of the dispute which has led to such rash behaviour on the part of the leadership.
There are two major matters of principle surrounding the dispute. First, of course, is whether the nature of the arguments put forward by Southampton Branch on the question of the party paper are correct or incorrect, Marxist-Leninist and proletarian, or 'leftist' and petit-bourgeois. Secondly, is the right of party members to raise such issues and criticise party leaders at the highest body of the Party, i.e. its Congress. From a dialectical materialist point of view, that is from a scientific point of view, these two aspects are not, of course, unrelated. The limits of an inner-party debate and struggle cannot be set solely by the rules of formal democracy. As Lenin says, the 'revolutionary interest is higher than formal democracy'.1
This paper aims to demonstrate that 1) The position argued by Southampton Branch at the Congress was correct and a very necessary component of Marxism-Leninism. 2) They had the democratic centralist right to fight for it at Congress and thus the expulsions and administrative measures which followed are a complete breach of democratic centralist principles. 3) It can in no way he construed that it was in the 'revolutionary interest' in this instance to trample upon the democratic centralist rights of party members. Let us deal therefore with the question of whether the position of Southampton Branch on the 'New Worker' at the Congress was correct. As Eric Trevett said at the Congress, the whole question of the nature of the party paper is connected to the question of what sort of party the N.C.P. should be. The view that the paper should be aimed at the advanced workers and the theory of different levels of socialist consciousness in the working class (broadly three: advanced, average, and lower strata) was condemned by Trevett as elitest and petit-bourgeois. He attempted to prove this by reference to a speech made by a building worker who expressed hostility to the idea that some workers were politically 'advanced' and others 'average', and asserted that they were all equal, (the logic of which is that workers are only equal when they have the same political views). Trevett used this to make the unlikely generalisation that such ideas 'alienate' the workers. Following on from this, he spoke some very fine words about the paper being a 'paper of the factories' etc., and the Party being a party of workers who would learn to 'love, yes love' the party because it expressed the interests of the working class 'as a whole'. Fine rhetoric indeed Comrades but will it lead us to Socialism? Or as Marx would say; -- If the essence of things coincided with their appearance there would be no necessity for science. Bearing this in mind therefore, let us examine this whole question of the nature of the party and its paper in a scientific manner, without recourse to tears, and moreover, without fear of 'alienating' the workers.
From this firm and, it should be added, thoroughly Marxist vantage point, it becomes apparent that once the fine rhetoric is subtracted from Eric Trevett's notion of what exactly the tasks and methods of the paper and party should be what we have left is nothing else but a complete rejection of Leninist principles on these questions. The position of Trevett and those who have eagerly but rather foolishly supported him on this question is virtually identical to that of the economists, the precursors of the Mensheviks in the early days of the formation of the Russian revolutionary party, when questions such as the nature of the party paper and who it should be aimed at were overwhelmingly the most important issues facing the revolutionary movement -as was demonstrated later by the split into the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions.
Before examining Lenin's position on this question however let us at least try to clarify the position of Trevett and his supporters on this question and present it in a concrete form. The first aspect of this form, of course, has to be the fact that they deny, or at least prefer not to think about, the fact that there exist different levels of political understanding in the working class. Notions of this kind as Trevett said are elitist and 'alienate' the working class and this they completely reject. The idea that some workers are advanced, others average and still others backward is abhorrent to them because this offends their respect for and no doubt 'love' for the 'entire' working class. Trevett put this very succinctly in his letter of expulsion to Southampton Branch's Secretary: 'Workers must feel comfortable in our ranks; must not feel that they are not bright enough to become leaders of our movement. The whole concept of intelligence is right-wing'.
The second aspect of their position of course follows logically on from the first, i.e. they reject the idea that the paper should be aimed at raising the level of the advanced workers. This is reflected in ideas of those like Denver Walker (New Worker feature writer) who, at the New Worker Conference in October '81 said that the paper shouldn't have 'Marxist jargon' in it whilst Trevett at the same conference justified his position by making the quite fatuous remark that when selling the paper on the street you cannot tell which workers are politically advanced. Similarly, Steve Flanders (N.C.P. full-time worker) ventured to say that there are 400,000 shop stewards in this country, most of them read the 'Sun', and it is these workers which the paper must be aimed at, so therefore it should be made 'palatable' for them.
These then are the calibre of ideas underlying the leadership's rejection of the position advanced by Southampton Branch at the Congress. And what a complete mess they are! They repeat almost word for word the arguments on these questions put forward by the economists against Lenin's paper 'Iskra' -- followed by 'Vperyod' -- throughout the period leading up to and following the 1905 revolution -- i.e. the period of the formation of the Russian revolutionary working class movement, when the question of first, a party paper and second, party organisation were the main problems facing the movement. What makes Trevett's position so ludicrous is the fact that he fails to see the link between the notion of different levels of political consciousness in the working class and the notion of the vanguard party -- two concepts which run one as one unified stream of thought throughout the whole of Lenin's works on these questions. However, first things first, let us answer one question a time. First -- are there different levels of political consciousness in the working class, i.e. advanced, average and lower strata, and should the paper be aimed at advanced workers? The answer to this question runs, as stated, throughout Lenin's works but should there be any confusion, let us take a rather long, but very precise quotation which should convince all those who have not vested their political career in upholding Trevett's hopelessly mistaken views:
'The history of the working class movements in all countries shows that the better situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the labour masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organisation of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working class movement has brought to the fore such working class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels . . . who despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labour possess so much character and will power that they study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social Democrats -- 'The working class intelligentsia'. . . We must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty requirements are met . . . The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical political and theoretical problems of world Social Democracy.
After the numerically small stratum of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average workers. These workers too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in study circles and agitation, and differ from the preceding stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent leaders of the Social Democratic working class movement. The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. Such workers, absorbed by local, practical work and interested mainly in the events of the working class movement and the immediate problems of agitation, should connect their every act with thoughts of the entire Russian working class movement, its historical task, and the ultimate goal of socialism, so that the newspaper, the mass of whose readers are average workers, must connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.
Lastly, behind the stratum of average workers comes the mass that constitutes the lower strata of the proletariat. It is quite possible that a socialist newspaper will be completely or well-nigh incomprehensible to them . . . but it would be absurd to conclude from this that the newspaper of the social democrats should adapt itself to the lowest possible level of the workers. The only thing that follows from this is that different forms of agitation must be brought to bear on these strata -- pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly -- leaflets on local events . . . arousing the consciousness of the lower strata of the workers may have to take a form of legal educational activities'.2 [Proletarian's emphasis]
Here clearly, Lenin shows the central purpose of the newspaper -- to raise the level of the advanced workers -- i.e. those who 'study, study, study', and turn themselves into conscious cornmunists capable of understanding the most intricate theoretical problems. In order to fulfil this function the paper must both follow up all the tactical, political and theoretical problems of the world communist movement, and as regards 'local and narrow questions', it must always and everywhere strive to connect these with the ultimate aims of socialism. These words do of course show all the foolish ideas of the Trevett clique to be totally opposed to Leninism. As stated earlier, however, the most peculiar aspect of the views of Trevett and company on this question is their failure to grasp the relation between Lenin's ideas on the revolutionary paper and his ideas on the organisation of revolutionaries. So let us clarify this point for those who fail to grasp this relation.
1 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 32 p. 55
2 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 4 p. 280
THE ORGANISATION OF REVOLUTIONARIES AND THE ADVANCED WORKER
The essence of Lenin's struggle against opportunism on questions of ideology and organisation, right from the very beginning, was his understanding that communism is not confined to simple service to the working class movement, rather it represents the combination of scientific socialism and the working class1. He puts his ideas most clearly in his famous work 'What is to be Done?', where, in agreement with Kautsky he points out that:
'socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other . . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge . . . The vehicle of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians, who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class'.2
This is the clearest expression of an idea, repeated over and over again throughout Lenin's works during this period -- i.e. the crucial importance of the 'fusion' of the advanced workers with the revolutionary Marxist movement. It was precisely Lenin's grasp of the role of the 'conscious element' in the revolutionary struggle that underlay his uncompromising stand against those who preached that 'Social-Democrats must not march ahead of the movement, but should drag along at the tail-end' and their failure to understand that 'unless Social-Democrats take the leadership of the general democratic movement in their own hands, they will never be able to overthrow the autocracy'. (Lenin's emphasis) 3
Running side by side Lenin's unrelenting efforts to show the importance of training class conscious worker revolutionaries, i.e. leaders was of course his grasp of the importance of uniting them in a strong, centralised organisation of professional revolutionaries in which all distinctions between intellectuals and workers would be completely eliminated.4
This, fundamentally, was the position of Lenin's paper 'Iskra', and it is interesting, though wholly expected, to note that Lenin repeatedly described those who resisted such ideas as adapting Marxism to the 'lower-strata' of workers, who only wanted to treat the workers to politics on festive occasions, whilst describing the 'Iskra' group as the representatives of the advanced workers.5 Similarly Lenin shows the way economism and 'tailism' correspond to the tendency to 'hang about the lowest and most backward strata of the movement'6. It was the dissemination by 'Iskra' of such ideas and its refusal to tone down Marxism that provoked the sharp and bitter criticisms by the economists and others. Lenin's work 'What is to be Done?' represents his most comprehensive reply to such criticisms, and in it he puts forward clearly the pressing tasks confronting the Russian revolutionary movement.
In this context Eric Trevett and those who support his views on what constitutes petit-bourgois elitism would do well to heed Lenin's reply to those who complained precisely of such elitism in that 'Iskra' concentrated too much on the 'cream' of the workers and that it displayed a tendency 'to minimise the significance of the forward march of the drab everyday struggle in comparison with the propaganda of brilliant and completed ideas . . .'7 and that Lenin's ideas concerned only a 'party of the intelligentsia'.8 Lenin's answer brings out sharply the connection between the necessity of building an organisation of professional revolutionaries and the concept of advanced, average and lower strata workers whilst at the same time exposing those who preferred to devote their worthy and charitable efforts to the average and mass workers:
'Attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the 'working masses' as the economists wish to do, or the level of the 'average worker', as 'Svoboda' desires to do. I am far from denying the necessity for popular literature for the workers, and especially popular (of course, not vulgar) literature for the especially backward workers. But what annoys me is this constant confusion of pedagogics with questions of politics and organisation. You, gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the 'average worker' as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing working-class politics and working-class organisation. Talk about serious things in a serious manner; leave pedagogics to the pedagogues, and not to politicians and organisers! Are there not advanced people, 'average people', and ''masses' among the intelligentsia too? Does not everyone recognise that popular literature is also required for the intelligentsia, and is not such literature written? . . . You must realise that these questions of 'politics' and 'organisation' are so serious in themselves that they cannot be dealt with in any other but a serious way. We can and must educate workers (and university and Gymnasium students) so that we may be able to discuss these questions with them. But once you do bring up these questions, you must give real replies to them; do not fall back on the 'average', or on the 'masses; do not try to dispose of the matter with facetious remarks and mere phrases'.9
There are several ideas referred to here by Lenin. The ones most relevant are of course his understanding that attention must be devoted principally to to training worker revolutionaries. This notion of course forms the basis for Lenin's ideas on organisation, that is, the party of a new type first and foremost an organisation of professional revolutionaries where workers and intellectuals stand together as revolutionaries, communists with a profound scientific grasp of the nature of the class struggle and highly skilled on questions of organisation and agitation. An absolutely necessary corollary of this of course is that the party paper, (i.e. the principal organ of the revolutionary party), must be devoted to the task of raising the level of the advanced workers.
Whether or not such trained profession 'love' their party Lenin does not say, but nevertheless he does point out that those who evade the central importance of educating the most able workers to such a high level by moralisms about the average, ordinary mass worker etc., are in real insulting the workers by refusing to talk about the politics in a serious way and concealing this fact with 'facetious remarks and mere phrases'.
If we now examine the position of Trevett and Co. on the advanced worker it must surely be apparent even to those who reject 'the whole concept of intelligence' as being 'right-wing' that behind such phrases as 'supermen' and 'elitism' lies a refusal to talk to workers about politics in a serious way. Moreover, Trevett's idea that such questions should not be discussed with the workers because they 'alienate' them or because they might not feel 'comfortable' along with Geldhart's idea that the problem is not to train advanced workers ( 'Supermen'! ) but to 'advance' the 'lamentably backwa British working class shows in reality a desire to talk down to the workers. The fact that Trevett associates the 'whole concept of intelligence' with the bourgeoisie shows that his understanding of this question is thoroughly bourgeois. This is made strikingly clear by Lenin's point that the middle-class intelligentsia too will have their advance their average and their backward strata. Or Perhaps we should not mention this for fear of 'alienate the intellectuals? Perhaps they might find it 'elitist'? Another point that Lenin makes is precisely the importance of popular literature amongst the lower strata of the workers -- and the intelligentsia!
For some comrades, especially certain members of the N.C.P. central committee, this latter point may seem a little difficult to grasp in view of Lenin's emphasis on the propaganda for the advanced worker. In the interests of clarity let therefore examine this aspect in more detail.
1 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 4 p.217
2 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.383
3 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.317
4 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.452
5 e.g. see V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 4 pp. 284 & 291
6 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 8 p.l86
7 e.g. see V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 pp. 381 & 414
8 e.g. see V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 8 p.l86 where he refers to this slander.
9 See V. I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.470
WORK AMONGST THE LOWER STRATA MASSES
Far from denying the importance of propaganda and agitation amongst the lower strata of workers Lenin recognised that this was an absolutely essential part of the process of building a revolutionary working class movement (led principally of course by advanced workers ) -- indeed he stressed that unless a party has strong links with the masses it is not a revolutionary party, but merely a 'grouping' (N.C.P. members please take note). Lenin also pointed out that the revolutionary party must be a vanguard party not just in words, but also in action so much so that all the other contingents of the democratic struggle must be obliged to admit that this is so. However the key to understanding these components of Leninism is that they must be understood not merely formally but dialectically, i.e. they must be understood not as isolated, dead, inert facts but in their connection with a changing historical reality.
In this respect the chief feature of the application of Leninist strategy and tactics is that the class struggle in the preparatory period demands different tactics from the class struggle in the revolutionary period.
For our purposes here the most significant characteristic of the relatively peaceful period of preparatory work undertaken by the revolutionary movement is the fact that the majority of working people are 'prepared to be ruled in the old way'. 1 It was against this background that Lenin formulated the famous thesis that 'the spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology'.2
In the revolutionary period however, when the oppressed classes are no longer prepared to be ruled in the old way, the masses, which hitherto had stood 'in the shade' outside the main class battles, enter the political arena as active combatants. Correspondingly the whole notion of 'spontaneity' undergoes a change: whereas previously it had denoted acquiescence on the part of the masses in regard to their oppression, it now denotes the active upsurge of the masses against their oppression.3 Thus in 1905, in the midst of the first Russian revolution Lenin stated that:
'The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness'.4
Above all it is the enormous magnitude and speed of events which marks off the revolutionary period from the preceding epoch -- Lenin describes this graphically on numerous occasions but perhaps the most explicit reference is when, during a speech to the Comintern, he mentions almost in passing that following the October seizure of power he had expected -- in fact predicted -- that the massive Russian peasantry would come over to the side of the Bolsheviks in a matter of days whereas in fact it had taken a couple of weeks.5
It is during this state of 'extreme indefiniteness, lack of equilibrium and chaos' in which inevitably there are 'thousands and millions of cases of wavering and desertion from one side to another',6 i.e during a revolutionary period, that Lenin changed the emphasis of Bolshevik propaganda and agitation towards the lower strata masses of the working class. Thus he argued during the 1905 revolution that the party should 'go amongst the people' and create broader, looser organisations -- although he made clear that the Bolsheviks could do this whilst maintaining its vanguard role only because their ranks were manned by well-trained class-conscious workers and were free of 'demagogues'. At the same time, as regards propaganda, he called for 'a more popular style, the ability to present a question to explain the basic truths of socialism, in the simplest, clearest and most convincing manner'.7
Similarly during the revolutionary period the strategical and tactical positions -- in particular the correctness of its slogans ('Land, Bread and Peace', 'All Power to the Soviets' etc.) -- of the revolutionary movement assumes decisive importance in the eyes of the masses since:
'These masses are learning in practice, and before the eyes of the world are taking their first tentative steps, feeling their way, defining their objectives, testing themselves and the theories of all their ideologists. These masses are making heroic efforts to rise to the occasion and cope with the gigantic tasks of world significance imposed upon them by history; and however great individual defeats may be, however shattering to us the rivers of blood and the thousands of victims, nothing will ever compare in importance with this direct training that the masses receive in the course of the revolutionary struggle itself. The history of this struggle is measured in days.'8
As can be seen then, a major feature of the revolutionary period is the immense significance of the activity of the masses. By contrast the preparatory period of the revolution, as regards the activity of the majority of the oppressed, is relatively peaceful, in which class struggle is engaged in actively by a much smaller proportion of the population. In this situation it is not that the role of the masses changes -- rather the concept of the masses. As Lenin says:
'It is (the concept of 'masses') that changes in accordance with the changes in the nature of the struggle. At the beginning of the struggle it took only a few thousand genuinely revolutionary workers to warrant talk of the masses . . . You have a mass when several thousand non-party workers, who usually live a philistine life and drag out a miserable existence, and who have never heard anything about politics, begin to act in a revolutionary way . . . When the revolution has been sufficiently prepared, the concept 'masses' becomes different: several thousand workers no longer constitute the masses. This word begins to denote something else. The concept of 'masses' undergoes a change so that it implies the majority, and not simply a majority of the workers alone, but the majority of all the exploited. Any other kind of interpretation is impermissable for a revolutionary, and any other sense of the word becomes incomprehensible'.9
The relation between firstly, the changing nature of the spontaneous element and secondly the changing concept of the masses and the change from essentially the preparatory to the revolutionary period of the class struggle is integrally bound up with the changing emphasis of party tactics.
In the preparatory period party work is directed principally towards the training and organisation of the proletarian vanguard, not just in words -- but also in deeds -- as Lenin said, it is not sufficient for a party to simply call itself the vanguard, rather every other contingent of the general democratic struggle must be obliged to admit that this is so. By doing so the party attracts the best elements of the working class to its ranks and proves by example, its worth to the masses. Correspondingly principal attention must be devoted to raising the level of workers to revolutionaries. Lenin's position in the relatively peaceful, preparatory years before the 1905 revolution was that the role of vanguard could only be fulfilled by a party capable of organising 'comprehensive political exposures'.10
In order to become such a force, Lenin emphasised the paramount necessity for those in the socialist movement to raise their own consciousness, initiative and energy. 11 The communist ideal should not be the trade union secretary but:
'The tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and every one the world historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat'.12 [Lenin's emphasis]
Consequently comprehensive political exposures 'would provide 'mental food' for workers at all stages of development via discussion circles and readings.13 The instrument for organising such nationwide comprehensive political exposures had to be first and foremost the revolutionary paper, the 'collaborators' (in the broadest sense of the term) of this paper would therefore be:
'ready for everything, from upholding the honour, the prestige, and the continuity of the Party in periods of acute revolutionary 'depression' to preparing for, appointing the time for, and carrying out the nationwide armed uprising'.14 [Lenin's emphasis]
Ranged against this view were first the economists and later the Mensheviks. The main thrust of their attack against Lenin's tactics was that 'Iskra' it was restricted to the enlightened workers only, and that it should try to 'raise the activity of the masses' by calling upon them to undertake 'definite, concrete actions' around 'realisable demands' yielding 'palpable results'.l5 Lenin replied to these attacks in his work 'What is to be Done? by pointing out that it was fundamentally false to counterpose the advanced workers to the masses I since:
'the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals. Such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically evaluating all the everyday aspects of our political life, all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of the various classes and on various grounds.'16
Thus in a sharp retort to his critics Lenin stressed that they should talk less of 'raising the activity of the masses' by propaganda that is 'accessible' to the masses and to the average worker etc., and talk less of what the workers already know and pay more attention to improving their own consciousness and raising their own activity. 17 All the Menshevik talk of issuing 'calls for action' to the masses served merely to conceal their own inactivity and amateurishness. He drives this point home when he states acidly that:
'Calls for action, not in the general but in the concrete sense of the term can be made only at the place of action; only those who themselves go into action and do so immediately, can sound such calls. Our business . . . is to deepen and intensify political exposures'. l8
The revolutionary period of 1905-7 proved the test of the Bolshevik and Menshevik trends from the point of view of real cottact with the masses. Whilst the Mennsheviks preached the desire to trail behind the bourgeoisie in carrying out the tasks of the democratic revolution the Bolsheviks were at the head of the spontaneous upsurge of the masses:
'a revolutionary period differs from ordinary, everyday preparatory periods in history in that the temper, excitement, and convictions of the masses must and do express themselves in action.' 19
On this basis Lenin stressed the central importance of advancing the direct slogan on the need to pass over to 'action' in the revolutionary crisis. Thus in contrast to the Menshevik and economist view that the most fundamental and necessary task during the 1905-7 years was to carry on mass propaganda, to prepare the right psychological conditions' for revolution, Lenin declared that that the role of vanguard fighter could only be performed by a party capable of organising a nationwide armed uprising.
It is in the relation of the conscious organisation and training of the proletarian vanguard, and the conscious organisation and guidance of the revolutionary mass struggle to the changing nature of the spontaneous element and correspondingly the changing concept of the masses that the main wealth of Lenin's ideas on tactics lies. It was on this understanding that Lenin's tactics differed to both the terrorist wing of the Russian revolutionary movement (who refused to recognise that spontaneous revolutionary mass action was out of the question in the preparatory period and called for direct armed action divorced from the mass movement) and the economist, opportunist wing (who wanted to adapt Marxism to the backwardness of the masses in the preparatory period. 20
In this context there can be no doubt that once communist ideas have taken root in the working class movement (and there has been a communist movement of thousands of workers in this country for over sixty years) the principal aspect of revolutionary work in the preparatory period must be the production and dissemination of all-sided propaganda which expounds the material analysis of history in full and which applies to it the concrete conditions and developments of each and every particular manifestation and outbreak of the political struggle of all classes. Correspondingly the revolutionary party must also show itself in deeds to be at the vanguard of these struggles on the side of the oppressed and to relate them to the ultimate goal of socialism.
Central to Leninism is the notion that the paper acts as the 'scaffolding' which facilitates the training of the class conscious workers in the ideas of scientific socialism and unites their activities in an organisation of professional revolutionaries. It is only on the basis of such 'scaffolding' that the 'bricks' and 'mortar' of a truly revolutionary mass movement can be built of which the revolutionary party forms the vanguard. 21
To in any way turn aside from this central task (which must inevitably entail the paper being aimed at raising the level of the advanced workers ) by using such phrases as 'elitism' is to fail to realise that it is not sufficient to attract workers to the vanguard party on the basis of simplistic platitudes about the general aims of socialism or indeed on the basis of their 'feeling comfortable' -- any serious communist would surely laugh at such an idea. Revolutions are not tea parties in which each participant can take turns at playing host -- and in any case those who prefer to conceal the crucial need to train leaders for fear of upsetting the workers make the mistaken assumption that workers suffer the same petit-bourgeois vanity as they do.
The ultimate goal of socialism, communism, can in the first place only be effected by organised conscious destructive action (socialist revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus) on the part of the masses. In order to carry out this historical mission the working class must have revolutionary leaders who are organised and able to guide the actions of the masses -- consequently, as Lenin pointed out, it is precisely such all-sided propaganda that
'brings closer and merges into a single whole the elemental destructive force of the organisation of revolutionaries.' 22 [Lenin's emphasis]
Secondly to turn away from the task of training such workers is also to fail to realise that the proletarian movement does not come into being 'all at once' in a pure class form, ready made. Only through long struggle and hard work on the part of the most advanced workers is it possible to build up and strengthen the class movement of the proletariat, ridding it of all petit-bourgeois distortions. 23
Finally, those who would prefer to relegate Marxist theory to a journal for the intellectuals in the name of more 'widely applicable' methods of struggle (which as the economists argued was the economic struggle) fail to realise that workers cannot gain a 'clear picture' of the class struggle in its practical significance in books but only by everyday political exposures24 which trace and connect the relation between the lies and 'camouflage' by which all the various representatives of the propertied classes conceal their inner, selfish strivings and their real position from the point of view of the revolutionary proletariat.
1 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 21 p.l94
2 V.I. Lenin.Collected Works Vol. 5 p.384
3 see 'Socialism: Theory and Practice' Nov. 1981 p.41 for an excellent analysis of this point.
4 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 10 p.32
5 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 32 p.474
6 V.I. Lenin Selected Works Vol. 2 p.277
7 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 10 p.34
8 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 8 p.104
9 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 32 p.475-6
10 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.431
11 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vow 5 p. 32
12 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.423
13 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.507
14 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.515
15 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.409
16 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.500
17 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.417
18 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.414
19 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 9 p.70
20 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 9 p.71
21 See V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.504
22 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.512
23 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 20 p.252
24 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 5 p.413
THE ADVANCED WORKER AND THE PAPER - SUMMARY
As has been shown, the entire basis of Lenin's development of Marxism is closely connected to the relation between the 'conscious' and 'spontaneous' elements of the class struggle. Of key significance in this respect is Lenin's grasp of the fact that scientific socialism and the class struggle arise side by side, not one out of the other. Consequently even given the spontaneous upsurge of the masses in a revolutionary period, without a vanguard party guided by the most advanced theory to lead them, the victory of socialism is impossible. In the relatively peaceful years of the preparatory period, when the spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, the work of building the vanguard party is based not on 'raising the activity of the masses' by issuing 'calls to action' yielding 'palpable results', but rather by the organisation of comprehensive political exposures. The reason for this is that:
. . . the consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class-consciousness until the workers learn, from concrete and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population'. 1 [Lenin's emphasis] .
In this, the crucial process of the combination of scientific socialism and the working class movement, it is clear, just as it would be with any class, that the advanced strata of workers - i. e. those activists who study Marxism, will grasp such ideas more readily. It follows therefore that the paper of a revolutionary proletarian party must be aimed at raising the level of these workers, firstly, because this is the surest and most effective way of training class conscious leaders of the proletariat, and secondly because to aim the paper lower would mean to tail the spontaneous movement rather than march at its head, because it would effectively mean holding the advanced workers back.
Without this fully conscious grasp of the historical process, the working class, despite all the work amongst the lower strata, will be unable to emancipate itself. These are central tenets of Marxism-Leninism, yet the N.C.P. leadership has angrily rejected them, and is bent on purging such ideas from its ranks. Why is this so? There can be one answer - the N.C.P. is itself economist and tailist.
1 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol. 15 p.412
ECONOMISM, TAILISM AND THE NEW COMMUNIST PARTY
Lenin stressed that the term 'economist' itself does not adequately convey the real character of such a trend, since it does not so much deny the political struggle as bow to its spontaneity, to its unconsciousness. 1 Another important feature of economism is that its proponents did not always declare themselves as such and in actual fact, at one stage, the main paper of this trend 'Rabocheye Dyelo' went so far as to announce that 'not a single social democratic organisation is guilty of the sin of economism'.2 Similarly it is important to note that this trend itself developed through different stages and contained varied schools of thought, and was in fact the starting point from which the later forms of Russian opportunism developed. As Lenin . showed, the defeat of 'Economism' as a trend by his paper 'Iskra' led to the emergence of Menshevism, a new form of opportunism 'revived on the soil of Iskrism.' 3 Despite these changes in form and features the opportunist trend remained essentially the same from 1894 to 1914, 4 while its international form, social chauvinism and Centrism (the desire to reconcile the reformist and revolutionary wings during and after the First World War) also manifested the same characteristics:
'Whereas the Economists adapted themselves to the backwardness of the masses, Iskra was educating the workers vanguard that was capable of leading the masses onward. The present day arguments of the social-chauvinists . . . were all advanced by the Economists'. 5 [Lenin's emphasis]
The fact that all these forms of opportunism shared this same desire to adapt Marxism to the lower strata of workers is of particular relevance to the dispute over the nature of the Party paper. This can be seen in the fact that the main thrust of Lenin's strategy at the 3rd Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in 1905 included drawing an analogy between the 'new Iskra' paper ('new' in that it was now dominated by the Mensheviks) and the old economist 'Rabocheye Dyelo' paper. The basis of this analogy was to show the opposition of these economist and Menshevik papers to the position of the old 'Iskra' on:
'the importance for the working class masses to advance from their midst class conscious, social democratic workers, worker revolutionaries, our Bebels, and the necessity to organise every district, every factory etc'. 6
On examining the N.C.P. in this respect the first impression to some might be that such deficiencies as economist and tailism cannot apply to it. After all, although the N.C.P. leadership has rejected the notion that its paper should be aimed at 'the training of competent and resourceful revolutionaries from amongst the advanced workers' they (in view of the fact that they are the leadership) would nevertheless be the first to mouth their allegiance to the organisational principles of Leninism, in particular Democratic Centralism, (especially centralism), along with many other ideological tenets of Leninism, in particular proletarian internationalism. However as regards centralism and discipline, as shall be shown later, even Mensheviks themselves were not averse to party discipline as such, rather their notion of it was different to Lenin's (and in fact coincides more with the notions prevalent in the N.C.P. on this question) .
To put it briefly, as Lenin says, 'political questions cannot be mechanically separated from 'organisational questions'. 7 Similarly as regards proletarian internationalism, as will be shown later, no matter how much the N.C.P. leadership might strive to reduce this to the merely organisational task of supporting whatever the socialist countries do, in reality without a correct political understanding guided by the most advanced theory even the best of internationalist intentions can result in a politically reactionary position.
Against the background of the points raised so far in this section an examination of the way the N.C.P. has functioned around definite issues can now proceed on the firm understanding that its ideological and organisational affinity with the World Communist movement and Marxism-Leninism, do not guarantee that the N.C.P. is 'marching at the head' of the working class.
The criteria for assessing the N C.P. with respect to economism and tailism will be Lenin's understanding of this trend, and though he ascribed its origins to the over-emphasis of work amongst the lower strata of the proletariat, 8 he defined its characteristic features as follows:
With respect to principles, in a vulgarisation of Marxism, and helplessness in the face of revisionism.
With respect to politics, in the striving to restrict political agitation and political struggle or reduce them to petty activities.
With respect to tactics, in utter instability.
With respect to organisation, in the failure to understand the need to establish a strong and centralised organisation of revolutionaries capable of leading the preparatory struggle, every unexpected outbreak, and finally, the decisive assault.9
Given these characteristic features of Russian economism as a trend, it can be seen that despite the different conditions out of which the N C.P emerged and developed, its approach to concrete issues bears all the hallmarks of economism and tailism.
1 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 5 p 387
2 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 5 p 315
3 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 20 p 250
4 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 20 p 249
5 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 21 p 332
6 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 8 p 186
7 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 33 p 316
8 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 4 p 280
9 V.I. Lenin Collected Works Vol 5 p 317