My Reply to "naxalite" of May 7, 2002


[Note: This is the verbatim posting I attempted to make on the "2changetheworld.info" site on May 7, 2002, which was refused by the moderator. (For his stated reasons, and my replies, click here.) This posting is indeed fairly long (one of the charges against it), partly because it includes the entire posting by someone whose handle is "naxalite", with my extensive responses interspersed. Naturally, only those seriously interested in the issues being debated will want to read it all.]




["naxalite" begins:]

> Scott wrote: The 1981 RCP programme, which I assume is still
officially the governing programme for the Party until the finalized
new one is adopted, says this: "The main way that the Party influences
the masses and the mass movements, the main way it works to build the
leadership of the proletariat and prepare the working class and broad
masses--and the Party itself--for revolution, is to systematically
carry out revolutionary agitation and propaganda." [pp. 41-42] It
certainly seems fair to me to sum this up by saying that "propaganda
and agitation are principal". (Itís true, I left out the words "and
agitation" before, but as you know, in some contexts the
word "propaganda" is short for all types of political education work,
including both propaganda properly speaking, and also agitation). So,
if you deny that the RCP has really followed this policy over the past
21 years, are you then saying that the Party has been ignoring its own
programme on this very central point?"

>
> This is mistaken, factually, on several points.
>
> First: His thinking is completely mechanical, when he assumes
that the formulations of the 1981 have been still "governing" the work
without change, development or amendment for twenty years. This is a
legalism that reflect how little he really knows about the RCPís
analysis, theoretical work on strategy, and its actual practice.
>
> In fact, the RCP has been applying its line, and developing it
theoretically (based on summation of that practice) constantly. In many
ways and in many places (starting in the 1980s after the 1981 programme
was published) the Party has summed up the importance of leading the
struggles of the masses as a key part of its central task.
>
> The development of its line, which included "preparing minds and
organizing forces
" as a key component of its central task appeared
as early as 1982.
>
> Throughout this period, the Party put great emphasis on actually
organizing and leading struggles among the masses of people -- with
the "NO Business as Usual" antiwar movement being just one example.
>
> The vision concentrated in the draft programme has been developed
over twenty years. And this evolving vision and line not a mechanical,
legalist reading of the 1981 programme) has been guiding the RCPís
practical work.
>


You say my approach is "mechanical" and "legalistic". Well, then I
apologize for ever having taken the 1981 RCP programme as seriously as
I have. I really did not know that we werenít supposed to do that, that
we were supposed to treat it the same way we do bourgeois party
platforms--as meaningless fluff.

Are you aware of the battles Lenin had with his comrades over the
wording of their party programme? Sometimes knock-down and drag-out
over just a few words. But I suppose he must of been guilty of
bourgeois "legalisms" too. Imagine! All that hassle over a few words!

Lenin took constructing a party programme extremely seriously, and
getting everything just right, because he viewed the programme as being
the primary document which should guide all the work of the
party. Thus at the very least, you had better damned well get the
partyís basic approach to the masses put down correctly there. If you
donít, then no matter what else you may say, your programme is no
damned good!

"naxalite" seems to be implying that whenever we look at an RCP
programme, we should understand that whatever it says on any point, no
matter how important and fundamental that point may be, that it may
have been changed and "developed" in some newspaper article or two
somewhere, which thus supercedes the programme.

I can agree that this sort of thing might be reasonable with some very
minor points, or even some point or two of middle importance. But with
regard to the Partyís basic approach to the masses?? If the Party
really changed its mind back in "1982" on something that basic, then
why the hell have they waited two decades to change their grossly
mistaken programme?

If you are that wrong in 1981, and you wait until 2002 to revise it,
then how right can you possibly have been all those intervening years?

No, Iím sorry, "naxalite", your excuses for that egregiously wrong idea
in the 1981 programme--which apparently nobody in the Party is willing
to publicly defend any longer--are completely unbelievable.

Much, much more plausible is this scenario: In 1981 the RCP put down
its real position on this basic issue. But it immediately came under
criticism, and immediately recognized that it had to "rephrase" the way
it expressed things in the future. The culmination of this process (so
far) is the new draft programme. But the old mistaken line in the 1981
programme has never been renounced by the Party. On the contrary, the
Party even said--at the beginning of the new programme process--
that "We believe our Partyís current Programme sets a fundamentally
correct course for revolution and expresses basic MLM principles which
are crucial to make revolution in the interests of the masses."

Moreover, if you are fairly sophisticated (and not totally under the
spell of the RCP line) you will easily see that the "new" line is
really the same as the old line--just as the RCP said it was going to
be.

You know there is a lot to be said for intemperate remarks--such as the
way the RCP phrased its line in 1981. It is really a shame to cover up
your real views by merely changing the way you express your same
old views. (Of course that helps you fool more people about what the
real essence of your line is.) Intemperance helps bring the actual
essence to the surface.

The RCP has never completely held to the line it plainly emphasizes in
the 1981 programme. That is to say, to some degree it has
engaged in some limited mass leadership even while its programme
proclaimed that "the main way that the Party influences the masses and
the mass movements" is through "agitation and propaganda", primarily
via the RW. They never said that propaganda and agitation were the
only things the Party would be doing; only that they would be
the main things they would be doing. And they have in fact kept
faithfully to that plan.

Similarly, I have never claimed that the RCP is exclusively a
propaganda organization, but merely that it is primarily a
propaganda organization.


"naxalite" continues:

> Second: Scott accuses the RCP of being a "propaganda
organization" and of focusing on educational work. And then he quotes
documents that stress "agitation" (which communists see as distinct and
different from "propaganda") and that repeatedly say this must
not be seen as "patient education" work.
>
> (Then he wants to define various forms of advanced actions, like
Damian on the Alamo, as "propaganda"... all i can say is "reinvent
meanings for words if you want, but donít expect the rest of the world
to nod.")
>


Well, "naxalite", Iím really surprised at you! I thought everybody in
or around the RCP was very familiar with at least one of Leninís
works, "What is to be Done?" (They used to be!) But I see we are using
the term "agitation" very differently. I use it in Plekhanovís and
Leninís sense, and you ... donít. Here is some of what Lenin says in
chapter 3, section B, "A Tale of How Martynov Rendered Plekhanov More
Profound". Lenin first quotes the Menshevik Martynovís distinction
between propaganda and agitation:

"By propaganda we would understand the revolutionary elucidation of the
whole of the present system or partial manifestations of it,
irrespective of whether it is done in a form intelligible to
individuals or to broad masses. By agitation, in the strict sense of
the word," [and here Lenin inserts "(sic!)"] "we would
understand calling the masses to certain concrete actions, facilitating
the direct revolutionary intervention of the proletariat in social
life."

Lenin then comments on Martynovís definitions:

"We congratulate Russian--and international--Social-Democracy on this
new, Martynov terminology which is more strict and more profound. Up to
now we thought (with Plekhanov, and with all the leaders of the
international working-class movement) that a propagandist, dealing
with, say, that same question of unemployment, must explain the
capitalistic nature of crises, the reasons why they are inevitable in
contemporary society, describe the need for its transformation into
socialist society, etc. In a word, he must present 'many ideas,í so
many indeed that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a
(comparatively) few persons. An agitator, however, speaking on the same
subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and
most widely known to his audience, say, the death from starvation of
the family of an unemployed worker, the growing impoverishment, etc.,
and utilizing this fact, which is known to all and sundry, will direct
all his efforts to presenting a single idea to the 'masses,í
i.e. the idea of the senselessness of the contradiction between the
increase of wealth and increase of povery; he will strive to
rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this
crying injustice, and leave a more complete explanation of this
contradiction to the propagandist." [All this is on p. 82 of the
Peking edition.]

Lenin goes on, but the point should be clear: The way Lenin uses the
terms propgaganda and agitation, both are forms of educational
work. Agitation deals with presenting a single idea to the masses,
propaganda deals with presenting multiple ideas to them.

Leadership of the masses is something entirely different than
either agitation or propaganda (though it is usually only
possible for any length of time when various degrees of agitation
and/or propaganda both precede and accompany it).

Now it is true that there is nothing that requires us to use Leninís
terminology here. If you want to use the word "agitation" the popular
way (along the lines of Martynov), then go ahead. But I hardly think
you have much ground to stand on when you proceed to criticize me for
using the term in Leninís sense!

(And goodness, donít you guys have study groups any more??)

I should add that while I invariably use the term "agitation" in
Leninís sense, I do sometimes use the word "propaganda" as short-hand
for political education work in general, i.e., what strictly speaking
should be called propaganda AND agitation. (Other people do this too,
by the way.)

I also have been assuming that the RCP, in its programmes and serious
documents at least, uses "agitation" and "propaganda" in the way Lenin
did. They used to, for sure, but I really suspect that the theoretical
sophistication of the Party has fallen tremendously over the years, so
you have got me wondering what to believe on this score now. Maybe
things really are as simple as that many of you guys are no longer
even able to use Marxist terminology in the standard ways, or to
correctly understand it when others do
. Wow!

As far as Damian Garcia raising the red flag over the Alamo goes, this
may be called either "agitation" (in Leninís sense, not YOURS!),
or "propaganda" (since a call for revolution is a summation of many
separate ideas, and since the word "propaganda" is often short for both
propaganda AND agitation (in Leninís sense) together. No matter which
term you use, one thing is clear: it is an act of political education,
and not leadership. (If it was an act of "leadership", then who was
Damian leading? Where were the masses?)

You suggest that Damianís was an "advanced action", designed to get
others to act. But that didnít really happen, did it? No, whatever
Damian and the RCP thought they were doing that day, it was in reality
only a propaganda act (i.e. a proclamation that a revolution is
necessary by people utterly unable to lead such a thing).


"naxalite" continues:

> Third: Scott suggests that the partyís method is to "sell
newspapers" (while admitting that it actively leads key movements --
like the struggle around police brutality.) The simple fact is that the
Party cannot enter and lead all mass movements of the people. It must
pick, concentrate and focus. And it clearly has, chosen some key
political issues, and has clearly played a leading political and
organizational role. If Scott thinks this isnít true around the issue
of war (after 9/11) he isnít paying attention.
>


Ah, yes, I hear this argument a lot from RCPers, to the effect
that "the reason we donít engage in many struggles is that we
have so few forces".

The flaw in this argument is that the way you get more forces is
by participating in mass struggles. The defense confuses cause and
effect.

The RCP is smaller than it was in 1981, active in fewer cities, and
even a lot less active than it was then in its educational work. (It
distributed a lot more newspapers then, had more bookstores, held more
forums, etc.)

Although I have no precise knowledge of such things, I think that the
membership may have picked up slightly over the last couple years, but
the fact remains that over the past couple decades the Party has
lost a lot of strength. Why? Primarily because it was following
an incorrect political line, focusing on educational work for the most
part. For the Party to now say that it has been "unable" to participate
with the masses in their struggles because of its small numbers is thus
completely disingenuous.

A correct line brings people to your banner. If, over a prolonged
period, you remain very small, it is because you donít have a correct
line.


"naxalite" continues:

> As for selling newspapers: (a) this is an extremely important part of
leading and influencing mass struggles (including when the party is
involved in many other ways). (b) The RCP calls this "stretching a
line" into important movements that Party canít directly organize and
lead. (See the section of the DP on this.
>


Conceivably a mass newspaper can indeed facilitate leadership of the
masses, if it is part of more general leadership efforts using mass
line techniques.
But the RCP has tried to substitute educational work
via its newspaper for any of that. Such a policy inevitably fails
miserably. (Just look at all the Trot groups doing exactly the same
thing.)

"naxalite" continues:

> Fourth Scott comes most out of his bag when he writes "only a
few of the struggles you mention can really be viewed as ones the broad
masses in this country are especially concerned with at this point. Of
course it is true that we should try to mobilize the masses on issues
like the defense of political prisoners (Mumia and others), and the
defense of the revolutionary leadership when it is attacked (including
the RCP leadership itself). But it is also true that we have to take up
the struggles which the masses themselves consider most important. And
on the whole, leadership of the struggles the masses think are
important (provided of course that they truly are in the massesí real
interests) is where the bulk of our leadership efforts should be
concentrated. From the list you provide, it seems clear that this is
not the case with the RCP."
>
> The real argument is over which issues to "lead" on -- and the whole
political approach of the RCP is focused on "issues" that Scott
thinks
are not already important to the masses. That point --
that Scott believes communists should focus their work on issues the
masses (already, spontaneously) appreciate is really the hidden heart
of Scottís complaint around the mass line. A lot would be clearer if he
dared to be honest, and list what he thinks the communists should give
higher priority to (what exactly is he proposing get higher priority
than police brutality, Mumia and opposing the socalled "War on
Terrorism" -- which quite obviously the majority of masses donít yet
appreciate as a felt demand.)


Well of course whether I think the areas selected by the RCP for
its occasional leadership efforts are important to the masses really
is beside the point. The point, as I have said many times is
what the masses themselves think about this. And what does the evidence
indicate? It indicates that the Party is very unsuccessful in leading
people, in bringing people forward, and so forth. This already strongly
suggests that the RCP is not trying to lead the masses on the issues
which most concern them.

Now, when I say things like that, "naxalite" thinks he has found gold!
Aha, the cat is out of the bag! "Scott believes communists should focus
their work on issues the masses (already, spontaneously) appreciate is
really the hidden heart of Scottís complaint about the mass line."

But notice, first of all, that the word "leadership" is missing from
that sentence. In other words, he is (once again) conflating
educational work with leadership work.

I do indeed advocate that communists should focus their leadership work
on the issues that most concern the masses (providing these are truly
in the masses interests of course). But I think the educational work of
communists (agitation and propaganda) should be focused more on what
the masses most need to learn (both about the need for revolution, and
on all the more immediate questions that will advance us in that
direction). That is something very, very different.

Since the RCP has subsumed its small amount of "leadership" work into
what is predominantly educational work, it never even occurs to
them
that the approach we use should be different in the two cases.

Yes, imagine that, we really should be merging into the struggles that
the masses themselves have spontaneously begun to wage. Who said
so? It isnít just me! Here is what Lenin said in a programme he wrote
for HIS party:

"The Partyís activity must consist in promoting the workerís class
struggle. The Partyís task is not to concoct some fashionable means of
helping the workers, but to join up with the workersí movement, to
bring light into it, to assist the workers in the struggle they
themselves have already begun to wage. The Partyís task is to uphold
the interests of the workers and to represent those of the entire
working class movement."

This point of view continued in all programmes of the RSDLP up through
the October Revolution, including both before and after "What is to be
Done?" was written in 1902.

But the RCP has rejected this basic approach to revolution by Lenin
(and by Marx and Engels before him). They have this "new approach"
which they are determined to stick to forever, even if it never does
lead anywhere. You do have to admire them for their persistence!

As I have said in the previous posting, I do indeed recognize that some
of our leadership work must also be on issues which the masses
themselves may not yet be very concerned with, such as around political
prisoners, and against wars that are for a time popular. But the point
of the mass line method is that the overall focus of leadership work
should in general, and most of the time, be on issues of concern to
those we are trying to lead (and to educate while we lead them). I
guess this is just too advanced a concept for "naxalite" and the RCP to
grasp.

And, once again, I must confront the accusation of "dishonesty". I am
supposedly "dishonest" because I say that in our mass leadership work
we revolutionaries should focus on the issues which are important to
the masses--rather than saying where I personally think the
focus should be. But what I really do "personally think" is that we
should focus on issues of concern to the masses! It doesnít matter to
me one iota what they turn out to be. If the masses think the issues
are important, then they are important (for that very reason!).

How do you determine which issues are of most concern to the masses?
There are two main methods. One, have the Party members get as close to
as many of the masses as possible, and learn from them directly what
their most heartfelt concerns are. And two, an even better method
perhaps, by doing as Lenin said, and join up with the struggles which
the masses themselves have already begun to wage on their own.
(Yes, "spontaneously", all on their own. How horrifying!) The idea here
is that if people are already willing to move on an issue, then it must
be of considerable importance to them. And if it is of importance to
some, it is likely to be of importance to others.

Where does this tendency to always portray people who advocate using
the mass line as "dishonest" come from anyway? I think it comes from
the simple fact that they just cannot get the idea through their heads.
It is so alien to them that their only recourse is to try to "explain"
the position of such people as "dishonest" and entirely different from
what they present--no matter at what length.

More and more I am being forced to view the RCP and its supporters as
pretty hopeless dogmatists who do not have the slightest idea about how
to lead the masses in revolution. This really, truly sickens me.

óScott H.




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