Scott’s Response to Another Member or Supporter of the RCP

(July 5, 2002)

[Another member or supporter of the RCP, who I’ll refer to as “X”, came across my Mass Line web site and read some of my criticisms of the RCP and its line. X sent me an email criticizing my critique. I wanted to post her (or his?) letter, together with my response, but X explicitly asked me not to post the message. So I have been forced to paraphrase X’s criticisms of my views. If X should have a change of mind, and allow me to post the contents of the letter exactly as I received it, I would be happy to do so. I also invite X to comment further if she or he wishes. —S.H.]

[Paraphrase of part 1 of X’s letter:]

X said she (or he) came across my web site on the mass line while doing a search on the topic. X remarked that there were interesting things there, and was especially interested to see the material about the web site. But she thought I appeared to be dissatisfied with the discussion there. [True enough!] She thought some of the things I said there were valuable, but objected to my cynicism. X said I was off base to claim that the RCP has been essentially worthless for a quarter century. And she objected to my portrayal of the Party as a cult, and those who leave it as burnt-out ex-cult members so demoralized that they can no longer do anything worthwhile politically.

Hi “X”—

Thanks for sending me your comments and criticisms. I appreciate your taking the time to do this, because—alas!—not all that many people these days think it is important to do this sort of thing anymore, even within the revolutionary movement. We all need to learn from others, and if they don’t take the time to try to set us straight we will all continue in our errors.

In what follows I will mostly address the points in your letter which I disagree with—at least in part—though I think there are certainly aspects of truth in your criticisms too.

First concerning my “cynicism” about the Party: I don’t think I said that all the activity of the Party over the past quarter century has been worthless. That is not true. What I meant to say, at any rate, was that the Party has not made any overall progress toward revolution during that period because of an erroneous overall strategy with regard to its relationship to the masses.

There are objective facts which demonstrate this, such as: 1) the smaller size of the Party now, 2) the Party’s abandonment of work in a number of cities and areas, 3) the Party’s current minuscule influence on the masses, 4) its diminished capacity to lead the masses, 5) its smaller number of book stores, 6) and its distribution of considerably smaller numbers of newspapers and other revolutionary literature.

With regard to newspapers, for example, you can check the validity of my claim by getting out a magnifying glass and checking the figures that the RW is obliged by the post office to print once a year (in late September I think it is). You need a magnifying glass because the RW prints these figures so extremely small—undoubtedly because they are embarrassed by them and don’t want people to notice. These figures show a huge decline in the number of newspapers printed since the early 1980s, though there has been a small increase again in recent years. And of course the number of newspapers actually distributed is probably quite a bit smaller than the number printed. (The next time you are at the home of a Party member, ask them to show you their basement or attic!)

But it is probably not so much these claims that lead you to call me cynical about the Party, but rather my recent public “giving up” on them. But you know, giving up on someone or some group is not necessarily a sign of cynicism either. Suppose you have a friend who borrows money from you but never pays it back. Eventually it becomes wise to give up on that friend’s honesty, and it is not a sign of cynicism to do so when the decision is based on long experience.

In the case of the Party it is not their honesty that is at issue, it is their obvious absolute determination to stick to the essence of a failed strategy for revolution. I (and others) have struggled with them for many, many years now about this, and they are simply unwilling to reexamine their basic line—no matter how long they “go nowhere” with it. Eventually, it becomes rational to give up on people who demonstrate such a clear antiscientific method and dogmatism.

In actual fact, instead of considering me to be “cynical” about this, it might be more appropriate to call me foolish and gullible for thinking for all these years that the Party might eventually come to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong about its approach to the masses and revolution. It’s taken me 25 years to give up on them. I think that shows considerable patience and experience with them—the exact opposite of any sort of flippant cynicism.

With regard to those who “drop out” of the Party, perhaps you are closer to the mark. First of all I only know (or know of) a few dozen such people. And, actually, among them, I know of a few who have remained true to their revolutionary principles and are still attempting to build a revolutionary movement in whatever ways they can. Still, over all this time it does seem that there has been no strong current of disagreement with the approach of the Party to revolution—either within the Party itself, or among its many drop outs. Since the exodus of the pro-Chinese revisionist “Mensheviks” in early 1978 there have been no other splits or major struggles that have become public knowledge. This does suggest that even most of those who leave don’t recognize what has gone wrong.

[Paraphrase of the next part of X’s letter:]

X said she [or he] thought I was frustrated because I probably feel I have important contributions to make that the RCP is ignoring. But she said I need to remember that I have an obligation to serve the people. It is irresponsible, she said, to characterize communists as cultish. That’s the sort of red-baiting the bourgeoisie uses to discredit communists. She remarked that suggesting that I was doing any red-baiting would no doubt horrify me, but that is the way she saw it. X added that the “cult” label could be used to denegrate everyone who challenges the ruling class and tries to change the world, and thus using such a term hurts the whole revolutionary movement.

The issue is not any personal frustrations that I may have, nor any feeling on my part that my personal “contributions” are being neglected. That is not what motivates me.

I completely agree with you that our stance must be to “serve the people”, but unfortunately there are many ways of screwing up royally while attempting to do that. One way, for example, is Stalin’s biggest sin—trying to serve the people by adopting a paternalistic attitude toward them—rather than by using a mass line approach to lead them in struggling for their own interests. (I am afraid there is an aspect of paternalism in the outlook of the RCP too, though I haven’t made much a public issue of that so far.)

Another way to screw up even while sincerely trying to “serve the people” is to promote a political line that is fundamentally flawed in some way, and which leads to failure in the people’s struggle rather than to eventual success. When you come to see that the political line of some individuals or some group is fatally flawed in this way, you must criticize that line forcefully—if you are truly concerned for the welfare of the people. And if some revolutionaries are following a line appropriate to a cult, rather than to a Party genuinely leading the masses in their own struggles, then you must criticize them for that.

What is a cult anyway? The word has various uses of course, but with respect to religion the main difference between a cult and a major religion is simply size. That is, a “cult” becomes “a religion” simply by winning over a lot of people. In politics things are actually pretty similar to that. A cult is a small group of people with their own peculiar political doctrines. A real political party, or a political movement, is usually a more substantial group of people with a characteristic doctrine, but more importantly, a group that has made some significant connection with some social class or classes. As Lenin put it, “the Party will not merit the name until it learns to weld the leaders into one indivisible whole with the class and the masses” [from “‘Left-Wing’ Communism—An Infantile Disorder”, a book I was criticized for recommending when I was in the RU/RCP].

Thus it is by no means wrong to criticize communists or anybody else for cultish behavior--that is, for behavior that keeps the group divorced from the masses. Although Lenin did not explicitly use the word ‘cult’ in the quote above, he was definitely criticizing cultish behavior there, and he was right to do so. It is not wrong or irresponsible, nor is it “redbaiting” to criticize communists for their actual mistakes, including political cultism. On the contrary, it would be wrong to withhold valid criticism that is due. It far more seriously hurts the movement in the long run to withhold appropriate criticism.

There is, I am afraid, something seriously wrong with the “left” today—even the revolutionary left—in that it so easily gets offended by criticism. It tends to view criticism as coming from the right, from “the enemy”. People are not used to strong criticism, and in fact are steeled against it because they have a strong tendency toward dogmatism. What we really need is a more scientific approach to revolution. And, among other things, that means a lot more mutual criticism, and criticism which is not automatically rejected as “coming from the enemy” or some such thing.

[Paraphrase of the third part of X’s letter:]

X said that I am throwing around statements for which I have no basis. One example, she said, is my (supposed) claim that the is not serving to deepen the RCP’s new draft programme. What, she demanded to know, are my grounds for baldly claiming that this process is not really about learning from the masses? How can I be using the scientific method if I claim such things?

Well, I was recently told straight out by a member of the RCP that the new “draft” programme has already been adopted by the Party as its official programme (until the final version comes out), and that—moreover—Party members are required by democratic centralism to defend that draft in its entirety. This came up when that member said something that vaguely suggested to me that he himself might have some little disagreement with it. I asked him why he didn’t post his own criticisms to the site, and he said that he “couldn’t”. And you may have noticed that no person who has identified themselves as an RCP member has posted even the slightest criticism of the draft programme.

I’m not saying that the draft won’t be revised slightly for the final version; of course it will. There may even be a lot of rewriting. And the Party really does want the masses to help them refine and polish the current draft. But the essential aspects of the line have already been set, just as I claimed. Nothing anybody says on the web site or anywhere else can possibly affect the basic line of the Party. This is all that I was saying, and as far as I am concerned, I have already been proven correct about it (because of my RCP friend’s admission).

[Paraphrase of the remainder of X’s letter:]

X said that if I believe that the RCP only engages in education, I apparently must not have read the section of the draft programme “Create Public Opinion/Seize Power”. She added that the Party has helped initiate, build and lead many mass struggles, such as those around police brutality, attacks on immigrants, abortion rights, and so forth. X said I should check out the RW for more on this. X then changed her tone a bit, and remarked that she is uniting with my enthusiasm, but criticizing me as well. She added that raising questions and criticisms is good, even essential, but it must be done in a principled manner that helps to move the struggle forward. Mao himself had many criticisms of the CPC, and was even demoted. But he still kept struggling.

Then X said she is not sending me her message for me to post on my website, and hopes I respect that. She is just giving me some of her initial thinking, she said. She added that she is open to more dialogue with me. She noted that she hasn’t read all of my posts yet, but said she will have to do that if we continue the discussion--which she is definitely open to doing.

I’ve read the entire draft [programme] several times, and stand by my criticisms of it and the Party in general. I have acknowledged that the Party does engage in some limited leadership of the masses in actual struggle, around a few carefully selected issues—most notably these days, the issue of police brutality. [Since I wrote this, the RCP’s leadership focus has shifted to anti-war work, where it has had some impressive initial success in helping to build the “Not In Our Name” coalition. —S.H (1/3/03)] But most of what it considers to be “leadership” of the masses is really just educational work (articles in the RW and the like). The overall thrust of the Party is toward educational work instead of leadership work; there is nothing close to a balance there. You mentioned that you haven’t yet read all of my posts, so I’ll let you do that first before getting into this any further.

It is interesting that you mention Mao’s criticism of the early line of the CPC. When I tried it with the RCP, I got thrown out—even though I really, seriously kept to the rules of democratic centralism. As far as I can tell, there has never been much room for dissent in the RCP. (Another mark of a cult, by the way.)

I won’t post your letter, since that is what you request. But why not? What is in there that you do not wish to see publicly presented? Your comments are “initial”, but so are mine. We all learn as we go along.

I’ve had a couple other exchanges with RCP members who said the same thing—“don’t post what I say!” Jeez! Are RCP members and supporters afraid to defend their views publicly? Are they afraid of reprimands from their comrades if they slip slightly from the approved line? Are things so tight that people are afraid to speak out? What is going on here?? (An unwillingness to publicly express one’s own personal views for fear of a group reprimand is yet another mark of a cult.)

But anyway, you don’t want me to post your letter so I won’t. I would be happy, in any case, to continue the discussion with you, since—frankly—you are one of the few folks in or around the RCP who has shown any interest in doing so! I think the rest believe that I am beyond the pale, that I am hopeless. I am delighted to find someone who seems to suspect there may be at least an aspect of truth to some of the things I have been saying.

Revolutionary greetings!

—Scott H.

[Note added later: Person “X” never replied to my comments above.]

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