Reply to Regional Leadership
(Revised version, Nov. 15, 1977)
By Scott H.
The regional leadership has now distributed a paper, “Defeat Bourgeois Idealism and Economism!! Raise High the Banner of the Working Class in All We Do!!!”, which is a response to my paper, “Draft Notes On the Mass Line and Our Work.” For the most part I am content to let my paper stand as its own rebuttle to the regional paper. I am convinced that any fair minded person who re-reads my paper in light of the criticisms from leadership will discover that these criticisms are largely directed against distortions of what I said.
However since the “DBI&E” paper is the first and only written statement of the opposing view of the mass line which has appeared, I hope it will not seem too unreasonable if I make a number of comments on it. It is also necessary to respond briefly to the large portion of the paper which discusses what it describes as “my views” on the economic crisis, elections, and other topics which were not gone into in my “Draft Notes” paper.
2. DBI&E is Quite a Disappointment.
The first thing to be said about DBI&E is that it is a real disappointment. I would like to think that an important leadership body of our Party could always be counted on to defend its political line in a highly effective manner, such as has always characterized the Party center in Chicago. Even if a position is at bottom mistaken, one would expect a powerful and carefully constructed argument in support of it. But I think that even many comrades who agree with the political thrust of the paper will have to admit that it is poorly written, disorganized and a little hard to follow, and rather superficial at best. I don’t think it can be said to clearly and systematically lay out its authors’ conception of the theory of the mass line. And the most central features of the theory of the mass line which I presented—such as the concept “from the masses, to the masses”—are not even mentioned! Curious, indeed!
3. DBI&E Has an Uncomradely Tone.
The second obvious thing about DBI&E is its uncomradely tone. Besides the assertion that I am “a belligerant self-centered asshole” (p. 13) I am called just about every name in the book: “reactionary”, “idealist”, “bourgeois”, “economist”, “reformist”, etc. (The few terms such as “counter-revolutionary” which were left out of the paper were added verbally later.) I am accused of dishonesty, pretending to agree with the Party line while secretly disagreeing (p. 15; no reason for thinking this is given.) I am accused of distorting Mao’s teachings on the mass line (p. 2)—although no examples or specifics are mentioned. I am accused of opposing “the whole of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought, and specifically the question of doing strictly Marxist work,” and promoting “the abandonment of our revolutionary tasks.” (P. 2—just how I am doing this isn’t stated.) In short we have a lot of unsupported accusations and name calling.
It is not that I am super-sensitive to this sort of thing and liable to have my feelings hurt. But I wonder if this is really the way to conduct intra-Party struggle among comrades? Mao said that “In treating an ideological or political malady, one must never be rough and rash but must adopt the approach of ‘curing the sickness to save the patient,’ which is the only correct and effective method.” (Quotations, pp. 262-3.) I really think, comrades, that your criticisms of those you believe to be making political mistakes would be much more effective if they were presented in a different spirit.
4. DBI&E Relies Heavily on Ad Hominem Arguments.
Perhaps the reason for the abusive tone of DBI&E is a recognition that it presents a very weak case which must be bolstered by discrediting me personally. In any case the ad hominem argument is heavily relied on. A good deal of emphasis, for example, is placed on saying that I am friendless among the masses, “extremely unpopular” (p. 10), and so forth. This is news to me! Maybe the many Muni drivers who have “pretended” to be my friends have just been too kind in not letting me know that they really detest me. (I am well aware that I am extremely unpopular with the present opportunist union leadership as well as with Muni management, but I count this as a virtue and an asset.)
So agreeable was this theme to the authors of DBI&E that they could not help but return to it again on page 13, with their own gratuitous “belligerant self-centered asshole” remark, among other things. Well really, comrades! Are you seriously suggesting that the number of friends one has among the masses, or one’s personality, are going to show which theory of the mass line is correct and which is erroneous??
This struggle over the mass line and our work at Muni has been hot and heavy for months now and its roots go back several years. Frequently tempers have flared on both sides during our “discussions” and evidently a couple comrades have developed a real personal dislike for me as well as my ideas. Perhaps they believe that others should, or do, feel the same way. Be that as it may, the correctness or incorrectness of my political line—as well as of theirs—will have to be determined by investigation, Marxist analysis and a study of the scientific theory of M-L, MTT—and not on the basis of anybody’s likes and dislikes.
Besides the direct impugning of my character with charges of dishonesty, unpopularity, etc., there is in the DBI&E paper another extensive sort of ad hominem argument—namely the practice of changing the subject to my “other” errors, both real and imagined. Since I was in error in advocating critical support for McGovern in 1972 I must therefore be in error in what I say about the mass line. Similarly with the 1976 election, the nature of the economic crisis, the city crisis, and just about everything else they can conjure up. This procedure is helped along by distoring my real position in every single case—usually into its total opposite. (I will deal briefly with some of the specifics later since these issues have been raised, although I fail to see their connection with the question of the mass line.)
5. DBI&E Resorts to Deceptive Techniques.
One of the deceptive techniques which the authors of DBI&E continually resort to is to attribute remarks and views to me which I have not made and do not hold. For example on page 10 it says “...our idealist author puts forward that the method of the mass line is nothing less or more than a statistical poll conducted by bourgeois sociologists renamed ‘communists’.” I challenge anyone to point out where I have put this idea forward. On page 5 of “Draft Notes” this idea is explicitly rejected: “The task therefore is not simply to gather the dispersed ideas of the masses, but following that, ‘to concentrate what is correct, what corresponds to the development of society and will move the class struggle ahead’, while discarding what is incorrect.” I continue for over a page on this theme of how exactly the Party derives the correct line from the raw material which is given in the welter of conflicting and unsystematic views which exist among the masses. (See also p. 9, paragraph 4). Now perhaps the authors of DBI&E think that this whole procedure really amounts to nothing more than an opinion poll. In that case they should start from what I actually do say and try to show how this is so. But instead they simply assert that I am putting forward a view which on the face of it I quite obviously reject. Unfortunately this is the typical method of argument in DBI&E.
On page 16 of DBI&E this method is combined with an even more deceptive practice—false quotation. The 8-line quotation attributed to me which begins “Mass line, Mass line, you must follow the mass line...” was never said or written by me—and indeed is a total fabrication.
I might also point out here that several of the quotations in DBI&E are not from my “Draft Notes” paper but from my earlier notes “The Episode of the Chinese Return Address—or, How Our Work At Muni is Constantly Being Summed Up Incorrectly.” These earlier notes have not (to my knowledge) been circulated along with the two main documents. The incomplete quotation on page 7 of DBI&E is from this earlier paper. In case it isn’t clear, the words “this line” in that quote refer to the mass line (as the full quotation would have clarified). Nowhere in that full quotation, nor anywhere else, do I say or imply that because the mass line must be based on the ideas of the masses themselves, that the mass line is therefore independent of condition, time or place. In fact it is patently obvious that peoples’ ideas do vary according to condition, time or place, which means that the mass line must vary too. Consequently the sentence following the quotation beginning with “As if to say...” (?!?) is clearly a non sequitur.
6. Am I Leading a Trend or Faction?
The charge is made in DBI&E that “in one branch, a reactionary Bourgeois pessimist trend” has developed (p. 2). The “Guidelines for Discussion of Paper on Bourgeois Idealism” even states that I am “the leader of an opportunist line.”
In point of fact there is no faction and no “leaders”. In our branch there is one other comrade who seems to agree with some (or perhaps a lot) of what I have been putting forward. I really do not know the extent to which he agrees or disagrees. We have never gotten together even once (outside of branch meetings) to discuss these matters (although I do not believe it would have been improper if we had).
As for who may agree or disagree with my point of view beyond our branch (and local leadership bodies) I have not the slightest knowledge. If there are other comrades who hold similar opinions to me they have developed those opinions entirely on their own.
7. Paralysis and Disruptions.
I am accused throughout DBI&E of disrupting the work, sowing confusion and paralysis (p. 14), driving wedges between workers and the Party (p. 10), etc. The “Guidelines For Discussion of Paper on Bourgeois Idealism” states that my “opportunist line” has paralyzed our branch for months, that I have “disrupted every discussion, in the branch and in the work...”, and so forth.
This struggle around the mass line and our work at Muni has been going on now for over a year, and its roots go even further back. Struggle is necessary in order to achieve a correct line and should not in itself be opposed. However it is certainly true that struggle and disunity do disrupt revolutionary work. This is why when struggle around political line emerges it should be sharpened and brought to a head with all due dispatch. Unity around the correct line should be achieved as soon as possible and the work should then go forward. For the past year I have been striving to bring this struggle to a head just for this purpose, but these attempts have been strenuously resisted. (Cf., for example, section IV-E of “Draft Notes”, pp. 20-22.) About 8 months ago I wrote a paper for the discussion to focus on (the “Chinese Return Address” paper mentioned elsewhere). Although our branch had a superficial discussion or two based on that paper, no unity was achieved. While waiting for a written response to my first paper I put togther the somewhat more systematic “Draft Notes” paper and submitted it on June 14, 1977. It was not until Oct. 24 that I received the long awaited reply from leadership (DBI&E). In these circumstances the onus for such a prolonged disruptive struggle must fall squarely on the other side in this debate.
With regard to the day to day work at Muni I fail to see how I can be blamed for disrupting it when I have hardly even participated in it since the beginning of the year. I got sick last January and was off work for 6 months. My activities are still somewhat curtailed since I don’t feel well. But this has not stopped the authors of DBI&E from taking this cheap shot: “Yet our Idealist does not recognize these advances [around NUWO at Muni], for he did not participate in building for the NUWO, nor has he attended hardly any UWO activities in the last l0 months, unlike several workers.” (P. 15.)
With regard to the specific example of “John” (cited on p. 10 of DBI&E) who I supposedly drove away from us: John is a long time member of the caucus who for the past year has played little or no role in the work. He is one of a great many drivers who have become disillusioned or disgusted with the caucus, and all this happened long before my remark to him. That remark incidently was made in reply to his strongly stated comment that our caucus should not concern itself with “outside issues” (class-wide issues). Perhaps my attempt to combat this was not effective, though I continue to be on excellent personal terms with John. (I frankly admit that I have much to learn with respect to working with the masses, attempting to raise people’s consciousness, etc.—but at least I do try.) The incident does show, by the way, the absurdity of the accusation against me that I am trying to limit our work to the economic or trade union sphere (economism).
And finally with regard to my “disrupting” of discussions in the branch: Comrade D. is in charge of the branch as well as of the work in general. He chairs the meetings; he guides the discussions. If he doesn’t want to hear my opinions all he has to do is say so. But in point of fact, for as long as this struggle has been going on he has continually tried to use all discussions as a means of “exposing” my “opportunist” line. For this I do not criticize him (although it would be much better if our struggle could be carried out in a more organized and direct way)—since I agree that this whole thing should be struggled out. But for him to turn around and accuse me of disrupting our meetings because he constantly steers the discussion into disputed territory—that I find completely disingenuous.
As I said before, it is true that this struggle has resulted in some disruptions to the work. But the real paralysis and collapse of the work at Muni over the past year has been due to the erroneous controlling line which has alienated the caucus from the masses.
8. A Mistake in “Draft Notes”—The Mass Line is Not Everything.
There are two specific errors in my “Draft Notes” paper which I have come to see over the months since it was written. These should be corrected even though the points were not raised by the DBI&E paper.
First, in my previous papers on the mass line I have maintained that the mass line is the method of mobilizing the masses to make revolution and struggle against the enemy, and that the mass line is the method of leadership which the Party exercises. Neither is quite correct.
It is true that the mass line is the primary leadership method of the Party, and that the mass line is the most important, primary method of mobilizing the masses to make revolution and struggle against the enemy. But to say that something is the most important thing is to admit that there are other less important things.
There is indeed an excellent example of another important leadership principle, or method of work among the masses, which Mao outlines in the very same essay where he first spells out the mass line method in full—namely the method of combining the general with the particular. (Cf. “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership”, SW, Vol. III, p. 117.)
The single-spark method is closely connected with this second principle of Mao’s. In the past I have considered the single-spark method (and the method of combining the general with the particular) as being a subsidiary (though very important) point of the mass line method itself. But frankly reconsidering this tendency to say that all leadership methods are part of the mass line, and that every method or tool of any value in mobilizing the masses to make revolution is part of the mass line, has led me to the recognition that this tends to becloud and obscure the mass line method itself. Better not to say that the mass line is all things on all occasions, and instead to insist that it is one very definite thing.
Of course there is a connection between using the mass line and using the single-spark method, for example. One can use (apply) one without the other, but what is wanted is to apply both. Since they are quite compatible and complimentary these two leadership methods need never interfere with each other.
9. A Second Error in “Draft Notes”—A Static Concept of the ‘Masses’.
In the “Draft Notes” paper I also incorrectly maintained that the masses must necessarily comprise a large number of people (p. 15, paragraph 4). In a passage which I had forgotten Lenin says:
I did note in my paper that: “what constitutes the masses and thus what constitutes large numbers of people, varies with the context. In considering a factory of 100 people it means something different than when considering the Bay Area or the whole country.” (“Draft Notes”, p. 15.) However Lenin’s point is not just that the concept of “the masses” is specific to the location context but also (more basically) to the degree of development of the struggle. He is quite right. This is why the July 4th demonstration last year can correctly be said to have been a demonstration by the masses, representing the broad masses, even though it was “only” a few thousand people while the working class alone totals many tens of millions.
However it would be totally incorrect to conclude from this that numbers are unimportant at the present time or that the participation of even one or two workers thereby transforms an event into a mass action. Lenin’s whole point in the above quoted speech is that numbers are important and become all the more important as the revolutionary struggle develops. And as he points out, even at the beginning of revolutionary struggle it requires the participation of hundreds, or thousands, of workers in a locality to really warrant talk of the masses having been brought into motion. Similar considerations apply even for a strike or other job action at a single work place—really effective action will generally require a large proportion (though not always a majority) of the workers to be mobilized.
Therefore, while accepting Lenin’s comments completely, I stand by the tenor of my “Draft Notes” paper with regard to the importance of mobilizing large numbers of workers at Muni—even at this “early” date. And while it is true that at the beginning stages of the struggle a small part of the total masses can represent that total, it is never true that a handful of individuals can “represent” the masses in the sense of substituting their activity for that of any part of the masses.
There are no doubt other errors and shortcomings in the “Draft Notes” paper, and certainly many aspects of the theory of the mass line as well as its application (or lack thereof) to work at Muni that were not sufficiently discussed. But on the whole I stand with the theory of the mass line presented there and am only reinforced in doing so by the regional leadership’s response.
10. The Question of Numbers Once Again.
What is my view on the question of numbers in Muni work and in general? It is exactly this:
Of course, we must recognize that there will be ups and downs in the struggle—as I plainly stated in “Draft Notes”. But as the National Bulletin says, if the IWOs “actually function as centers of leadership in the struggle” big battles will result and there will be an “overall growth” in numbers. This however cannot be admitted by comrade D. and his group because the dwindling size of the Muni caucus and its complete inability to mobilize large numbers even for very occasional battles implies that their leadership and political line is incorrect.
11. Three Theories of the Mass Line.
On the next page of these notes [just after this paragraph in this online version —S.H.] there appears a schematic diagram entitled “Three Interpretations of the Mass Line”. Although such a diagram inevitably presents a simplified picture and abbrieviated description of the nature of the three interpretations and their differences, it may help orientate the following discussion. Basically I claim that I am upholding the second of these three interpretations while the other side in this dispute is upholding interpretation #I. The other side fails to see any distinction between interpretations II and III and lumps them together. They see the common element of interpretations II and III: namely, that both start with an investigation of the ideas of the masses; but they fail to note the big difference; namely, that interpretation II selects from among the ideas of the masses only those ideas which are in accordance with the basic experience of the international proletariat, and finally, which are in accordance with the objective situation. This Marxist-Leninist analysis results in the concentration of the correct ideas of the masses into a correct line capable of advancing the revolutionary struggle (once it is returned to the masses). Interpretation III omits this concentration process completely.
Three Interpretations of the Mass Line
[Note added 08/23/05: This chart has been improved a bit over the years and the latest
The authors of DBI&E are really disgusted by the view that the mass line should be based on the ideas of the masses, despite the many quotations from Mao and also the Party pamphlet on the Mass Line (which I have cited in “Draft Notes”) that state this clearly. (Check out their evident disgust in DBI&E on pp. 13 & 14, and also in the false “Gregorian chant” quotation on p. 16.) So ridiculous and abhorant is this view, in their eyes, that they cannot but call me “our Idealist” every few lines throughout the entire paper.
In “Draft Notes” I charged that the other side in this dispute viewed applying the mass line as being the same thing as doing “strictly Marxist work.” (P. 17.) The authors of DBI&E continue to speak of the two as separate entities while at the same time failing to give any explication of the mass line except in terms of “doing strictly Marxist work.” First, at the top of page 4, they note the inextricable connection between the “two”: “...only by doing strictly Marxist work can we correctly apply the mass line, and only by correctly applying the mass line can we do strictly Marxist work.” But on the next page in the last paragraph they make the mass line sound very much the same as doing propaganda and agitation—expecially of the “strictly Marxist” sort. And then, after spending over a page saying that the mass line is based upon various of the basic propositions of scientific socialism, they state on top of page 9 that: “The mass line serves the working class. As Mao says, once the ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses of people, they become a material force to change the world. In short, this is the process we refer to as using the mass line.” (My emphasis.) This passage seems to be saying that the mass line is simply the process of propagandizing proletarian ideas to the masses. (The only other possibility I can imagine here is that the mass line is being identified with scientific socialism as a whole, or at least those portions of it listed on the previous page and a half.) So as near as I can tell from this somewhat obscure and carelessly written paper, my charge that these comrades are identifying the mass line with strictly Marxist work has been borne out.
12. Lenin’s Use of the Phrase “Strictly Marxist”.
Before going any further with this we should explore what the phrase “strictly Marxist work” refers to, the origin of the phrase and its meaning in current Party literature.
I don’t know where else the phrase might be used in the classics but one frequently cited source is Lenin’s provocative article “On Confounding Politics With Pedagogics” (CW, Vol. 8, pp. 452-5.) Unfortunately Lenin’s use of the phrase in this unfinished draft of an article is generally misinterpreted (at least to a degree). What was Lenin’s purpose in writing this article? The last sentence of Lenin’s first paragraph explains what the Mensheviks were doing and what Lenin took exception to:
In short the Mensheviks had seized upon the May Day setback as an excuse to back away from a revolutionary struggle against the Czarist autocracy, a struggle whose correct goal was a provisional revolutionary government and a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship. Their slogan “To the masses!”, together with the demand for concentrating on Marxist educational work among the masses, was, in this circumstance, a camouflaged way of saying “Forget the political struggle; we must concentrate on the only kind of struggle the masses want to engage in, namely economic struggle against the capitalists and the government.”
We should note well that the Mensheviks were not saying “The masses are not yet ready to rise up against the autocracy, therefore we must intensify our education work to prepare them for this move.” On the contrary, Lenin points out that these Mensheviks were scornfully dismissing all mention of the great and lofty aims of the working class movement (of which the first on the agenda was none other than the overthrow of the autocracy). “Who and what are we,” Lenin has them saying, “to strive towards such things? It is purposeless to speak of the role of Social-Democracy as the vanguard of the revolution when we do not even really know the mood of the masses, when we are unable to merge with them and to rouse the working masses!”
The real Menshevik political line was even more backward than bourgeois populism, but (as is frequently the case with bourgeois populism) it was cloaked in “mass line” phraseology to make it appear that it was the backwardness of the masses which required the abandonment of the struggle for democracy. This all ties in with the overall Menshevik view that it was up to the bourgeoisie to lead the bourgeois democratic revolution and that the workers should only play a passive, or perhaps, supporting role.
In the second paragraph of the article Lenin agreed that “self-criticism is vitally essential to every live and virile party,” and thus implicitly agreed also that the Social-Democrats (communists) did have an inadequate degree of influence on the masses, and didn’t sufficiently know the mood of the masses, etc. He likewise says, on the next page, that weakness in the “Marxist work” of arousing the masses and raising the workers’ consciousness to Social-Democratic (communist) consciousness is “always one of the causes of the proletariats’ defeat.” But this in no way led to the conclusion the Mensheviks wanted it to.
Lenin then goes on to say: “There is nothing more warranted than the urging of attention to the constant, imperative necessity of deepening and broadening, broadening and deepening, our influence on the masses, our strictly Marxist propaganda and agitation, our ever-closer connection with the economic struggle of the working class, etc.” Note carefully that these were things the Mensheviks were calling for—including “strictly Marxist propaganda and agitation”—and Lenin was agreeing with all of it, BUT..., he continued: “Yet because such urging is at all times warranted, under all conditions and in all situations, it must not be turned into special slogans, nor should it justify attempts to build upon it a special trend in Social-Democracy. A border-line exists here; to exceed the bounds is to turn this indisputably legitimate urging into a narrowing of the aims and scope of the movement, into a doctrinaire blindness to the vital and cardinal political tasks of the movement.”
Now how in the world, you might ask, can a characterization of the tasks of the Social-Democrats (communists) which includes “strictly Marxist propaganda and agitation” ever be construed as a “narrowing of the aims and scope of the movement?” There is only one explanation for this: what the Mensheviks meant by “strictly Marxist propaganda and agitation” and what Lenin therefore also uses it to mean here, is not the same as the sense in which it is now used in our Party’s literature; in this context it is a narrower conception which (among other things perhaps) does not include propaganda and agitation directed against the autocracy. Was it really Marxism to oppose the autocracy and strive to overthrow it? Of course!—Providing this was part of an overall program toward socialist revolution, which in the hands of Lenin and the Bolsheviks it certainly was. But considered in isolation, the revolution to overthrow the autocracy constituted a bourgeois democratic revolution, and was in this sense not “strictly” Marxist; Marxist work being considered at the time (especially by the Mensheviks) as involving only such efforts which built the struggle of the workers against the capitalists directly. Lenin is saying that of course this “strictly Marxist” work is indispensible, but that it should in no way lead “into a doctrinaire blindness to the vital and cardinal principal tasks of the moment”—which were, first and foremost, the efforts leading to the overthrow of the Czarist autocracy (as we know from any number of Lenin’s writings from this period).
No one argued stronger than Lenin that the proletarian party should constantly strive to educate the workers and the broad masses, and raise their consciousness to the maximum degree possible, but he drew the line at opposing (or contraposing) such pedagogic efforts to also mobilizing the masses in political struggle. What, indeed, is the whole purpose of raising the consciousness of the masses if it is not to lead them in political struggle against the enemy and make revolution?
So, although Lenin gives some strong and very sincerely held arguments in this article in favor of constant educational work, as well as for ever more closely connecting ourselves to the masses and increasing our influence on the masses, the point of the article is that this by itself is not enough; that communists must also lead the masses in political struggle, both against the autocracy (where one exists) and against the bourgeoisie and their government.
I have gone into all this at such length because in the past comrade D. has tried to use this article to show that Lenin opposed the mass line in “my” sense (in the sense of “from the masses, to the masses”) and that it was the Mensheviks who used such a theory in opposition to Lenin. In reality, however, the Mensheviks were by no stretch of the imagination using the mass line, and nothing whatsoever in Lenin’s article can be used to show that he opposed any kind of Marxist or revolutionary work (propaganda, agitation, or any other kind) to using the mass line in the sense of interpretation II given above.
13. The Phrase “Strictly Marxist Work” in Current Party Literature.
In current Party literature the phrase “strictly Marxist work” does not have the narrower meaning in which it was used in Lenin’s article. On the contrary, it means propaganda, agitation, and other work, in favor of revolution, socialism and communism. We call it “strictly” Marxist work—not to contrast it with revolutionary political work, but—just the opposite!—to contrast it with economic or trade union work (or other work for reforms) which though necessary is not by itself revolutionary work. I presume that this is also the sense in which this phrase is used in DBI&E.
The authors of DBI&E accuse me (once again) of opposing strictly Marxist work (along with “the whole of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought”, p. 2). This just isn’t true; and they are unable to cite a single sentence in my paper which backs up their charge.
I have been trying to separate conceptually the application of the mass line, on the one hand, and doing strictly Marxist work, on the other, while recognizing their close connection and the absolute necessity of doing both. As I have shown above, the other side in this dispute has tended to identify the mass line with doing strictly Marxist work. The result, which is typical where two important tasks get blurred into one, is that neither task gets done right. Both are botched. The results of the work at Muni certainly bear this out. Or would you maintain, comrares, that our strictly Marxist work at Muni has been carried out well (at least by yourselves, if not by me)?
14. Hard Times for Revolutionaries?
Here is another of those little “brain-buster” puzzles which the other side in this debate has such a hard time with: On the one hand the development of the economic crisis is making it harder and harder to win concessions from the bourgeoisie and more and more difficult to ward off attacks. On the other hand we are at the beginning of a spiral in which there are more and more battles, big and small, and the masses are more and more coming into motion. There is really no inconsistency here. Of course it is becoming harder to ward off attacks (let alone win new concessions), but overall it is objectively becoming easier to mobilize the masses (if the right methods are used) because... because that old revolutionary slogan remains as true as ever: oppression breeds resistance.
You may think, comrades, that the continued development of the economic risis will make it tougher and tougher to mobilize the masses—but you are wrong. This is why I still say you cannot blame the virtual collapse of the work at Muni on “unfavorably changing objective conditions.”
Such a view is profoundly pessimistic—far more so than whatever pessimism I may show about the likelihood of successful work which ignores the mass line. Who really is the “bourgeois pessimist” here? The side which says we are doomed to small scale efforts, small numbers, victories few and far between; which emphasizes the difficulties and explains away every failure as inevitable (if it does not instead label it a “success”), which fails to understand its errors or cooks up a thousand excuses for them? Or the side which says the situation is excellent; that we are the beginning of a vast working class revolutionary upsurge; that sure, conditions are getting worse for the people, but that consciousness and mass action are on the increase; that sure, there are many difficulties and much hard work that lies before us, but that we can accomplish our goals if we do our work right?
It is certainly true that we are not now in a revolutionary situation, and that the Party and the conscious revolutionary movement will be relatively small in the immediate period. But the point is that under the real objective conditions we face right now, our relatively small revolutionary forces can still lead big battles, the mass movement can grow and develop, and our efforts can help change the present objective conditions for the better.
I’m not satisfied with our efforts, comrades. I think we are making many mistakes. I think we can do much, much better in our work (within the limitations of the present objective conditions) if we correct those mistakes. Such a view is not pessimistic.
“Hard times are fighting times!” Of course all times are (or should be) fighting times as long as capitalism exists; but there is a lot of truth in that slogan nevertheless. I suppose, however, that I have to explain that I am not supporting the infantile view “the worse, the better” which some people even carry to the extreme of trying to make things worse “so they will get better.” But if capitalism were not bad for the working class (and the rest of the people ultimately), if it did not exploit and oppress us, attack us and try to drive us down, there would be no reason to overthrow it, and no one would want to.
The point of view which I am upholding here is precisely that contained in documents from leadership bodies of the Party. Regional leadership itself just recently said: “The CC report, both national bulletins and the recent Revolution articles lay out why building a National Workers Organization is both possible and necessary at this time. In short because the resistance of the working class is breaking out all over in response to increasing attacks by the capitalists, who are desperately trying to upload a deepening crisis on the backs of the workers. While the recent REV. article points out that these battles are sporadic and more frequent, they are hit back hard by the capitalists and their agents and often set back as swiftly as they broke out. These days the stakes are higher and victories are not easily won.” (“National Workers Organization and Some Lessons Summed Up From Mayday”, p. 1, emphasis added, bad grammar in original. I received this undated document on 6-11-77.) Since you comrades have put this same viewpoint forward yourselves you ought to understand that there is no logical contradiction here!
15. Is the Mass Line Simply a Set of Techniques?
The mass line is not “simply a set of techniques.” Such a characterization makes it sound like anybody—even the bourgeoisie—could use it. The key element which raises the mass line above this is the processing of the ideas of the masses with the aid of M-L, MTT. There is a technique or method to using the mass line, however, and this is explained elsewhere in these pages and in “Draft Notes”.
It may be helpful on this point to note that there are two different relations between the ideas of M-L, MTT and the mass line method. One of these relations is an integral part of the mass line method of leadership itself—namely in step two of the three step procedure outline above, the processing of the ideas of the masses by means of Marxist-Leninist theory. But there is also an “exterior” relationship between the mass line and M-L, MTT. This is a consequence of the fact that the starting place of the mass line method is the ideas of the masses, while however it is our obligation to not take these ideas of the masses as unchangeable or impossible for us to change. Through our strictly Marxist work our communist ideas can be gradually transferred to the broad masses, which will enrich the possibilities for mass action by means of the application of the mass line.
The fact that the mass line is not the same thing as strictly Marxist work (though both are absolutely indispensible), is therefore no reason for thinking that the mass line method of leadership is a mere set of techniques. It is on the other hand important to keep the technique of the mass line clear and simple, and not to confuse it by identifying it with other indispensible revolutionary tasks (such as carrying out strictly Marxist work).
16. The Wisps of Painless Progress & Keeping to the High Road.
Somehow the other side in this dispute has come to be of the opinion that our work is bound to be rather unsuccessful during this period. They accuse anyone who thinks differently of following the “wisps of painless progress” and failing to “keep to the high road”.
There is an excellent article in the Nov. 1977 issue of Revolution (p. 3) commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution which brings out the real meaning of these phrases. As the introductory editorial note states: “Full of relevance for the present struggle for revolution in our country, the work of the Bolsheviks in this whole period is an inspiring example of sticking to the high, hard road of revolutionary struggle—of mobilizing the masses to fight in the class interests of the proletariat, of keeping the goal of revolution in mind in every struggle, of never sacrificing long term interests for illusory short-term gains even in the face of the greatest difficulty and savage repression, of making every possible preparation for the revolution in the daily battles and seizing the time when the opportunity ripens.”
Is there a contradiction between mobilizing the masses for any limited purposes and for mobilizing them for revolution? Yes, many times there is. Sometimes the masses are broadly influenced by certain bourgeois ideas—such that such and such a bourgeois politician stands for their interests, for example. In such a situation it may be relatively easy to mobilize the masses in support of that politician—but to do so would obviously not be in the real interests of the masses. Nor would it be an example of the application of the mass line!—no matter what techniques and methods were used. Why? Because the mass line is not simply a set of techniques for mobilizing the masses regardless of what they are being mobilized for. The mass line is a method of concentrating those ideas of the masses which are correct, which are in the interest of the working class and the broad masses, which do correspond to the development of society and which will move the class struggle forward.
If our criterion for how successful we are in our work were simply how successful we are in mobilizing the masses for any purpose whatsoever, then indeed it would be possible to be vastly more “successful” in the short-run than we now are (though of course such short run success must inevitably lead to long-term disaster.) This is what it would mean to chase the wisp of painless progress and abandon the high, hard road of revolutionary struggle. The importance of this recognition, especially in the light of the history of the growth of revisionism in so many formerly revolutionary parties (such as the CPUSA), cannot be stressed too much.
But we would be dead wrong if we drew from this the conclusion that no real advances in the work can be made at the present time, that we are doomed to defeat and isolation, that the revolutionary workers movement cannot advance in this period, and so forth. We would be dead wrong if we concluded that it is therefore not important how successful we are in mobilizing the masses.
Our criterion for success is indeed how successful we are in mobilizing the masses—not just with any random objective, but with the very definite objectives of winning as much as can be won and weakening the enemy, of raising the consciousness and organization of the masses and instilling the revolutionary outlook, and of developing and recruiting communists from among the masses. And by this correct criterion our work at Muni has also not been successfully carried out. We could and should have been far more successful than we have been in mobilizing the masses with these very definite objectives in mind, and the primary reason we have not been is because the mass line has not been used. And to argue this, as I have been doing is not to urge abandonment of the high, hard road of revolution, but advancement down that road.
17. “You Never Say Concretely What Should Be Done.”
Many times I have been reproached for not saying exactly what we should do in the work around a specific battle or campaign, and for never having ideas, proposals, suggestions, etc., for the work. Actually this is not quite true: I have put forward many such suggestions but very few have been adopted. The reason is simple: comrade D. does not take notice of other people’s ideas and suggestions. It is his ideas and proposals (and those which are transmitted to him from leadership) which have invariably been adopted as our program of action.
I readily admit that I am a poor tactician, and though not totally devoid of ideas, on many occasions I have been at a loss personally to know what should be done to counter this or that attack or take up some particular issue. There is no doubt that among the comrades in the work D. is by far the best at coming up with proposals for action. We have all admired him for this ability. However it has its bad side as well as its positive side in that these proposals then serve as the exclusive stock of possibilities and are decided among exclusively by the comrades (or in reality by D., together with local leadership). This means that the great many ideas of the masses are not collected, and the masses do not even have a say as to which of D.’s proposals get adopted.
It is good to be a good tactician, and such comrades are valuable. All communists should strive to develop their abilities in this area. But no tactician, not even the greatest in history (whether they be Sun Szu and Napoleon, or Marx, Lenin and Mao) was ever superior to the masses. It is the masses who are the incomparable tacticians and this is a major reason why we strive to use the mass line. Comrade D. may well be the best single tactician among all 1800 Muni operators, but he is no match for all the rest combined.
It is not for me, a poor tactician, to determine what should be done, nor for comrade D., a good tactician. It is for the masses and the Party branch and leadership together to determine this, by means of the mass line. This cannot be done abstractly, it must be done concretely with every new problem or circumstance.
The whole point, comrades, is that the raw material for the correct line is to be found among the masses, not in the heads of a few individuals.
18. The Nature of the Economic Crisis.
DBI&E claims that “our idealist author has a history of denying the nature of the present crisis.” (p. 12) And here we have another suggestion that I am dishonest: “Frankly, we are suspicious that our idealist is just dodging struggle over his analysis that the present crisis of capitalism is just one of many ‘cyclical downturns’ and not the beginning of a spiral into a major world-wide crisis.” (DBI&E, p. 12.) So you see, on the one hand I have a long history of bringing up certain disagreements with the Party’s analysis of the economic crisis, and on the other hand I am trying to dodge struggle on the whole issue. There is a little inconsistency in your accusations here folks!
As a matter of fact I have believed for over a dozen years (well before I began to consider myself a Marxist-Leninist back in 1969) that the U.S. and world capitalist economy was entering a period of fundamental crisis comparable to (and most probably much worse than) the Great Depression of the 1930s. All the study and investigation I have been able to do has convinced me all the more that this is true, and I have never suggested anything to the contrary.
I have explicitly stated my general agreement with all the articles on the economic crisis which have appeared in Revolution as we discussed them in the branch—though I have at the same time indicated some points with which I disagreed. (For some people any disagreement amounts to total opposition, evidently.)
DBI&E correctly states that I disagreed with the analysis of inflation in the “Quicksand” article in the RU’s Revolution (Nov. 1974). And indeed I still do. For a much better analysis of inflation in general, and how it was eliminated in China, see the excellent pamphlet “Why China Has No Inflation”, (Peking, 1976), especially Chapter 3.
For years I have taken great pains to get comrades to distinguish short term cyclical movements from the development of the underlying economic crisis (though of course there are a million connections between the two phenomena), instead of identifying the two which even the Central Committee documents have tended to do. I therefore find the charge that my analysis is that “the present crisis of capitalism is just one of many ‘cyclical downturns’” incredibly unjust and unwarranted.
My major point of disagreement on political economy, however, has been with the theory that there is a shortage of capital. Last January I completed a long paper on this topic (“The ‘Capital Shortage’ Myth: A Dangerous Error in Political Economy”) and submitted it. Ten months later I still have not received any reply (unless DBI&E is supposed to be the reply). Whether my central argument in that paper is right or wrong, it should be obvious that I do not deny “the reality of the crisis”. See for example the first paragraph of my paper and the last section, “The Nature of the Present Crisis”.
With respect to the “crisis of the cities”, my position has always been that this is a part, or aspect, of the overall crisis. Comrades in the branch will recall the numerous times I have criticized comrade D. for treating the crisis of the cities in isolation from the overall crisis. (This by the way was my “disruption” referred to on p. 15, paragraph 2, last sentence, of DBI&E.) The reference on page 15, paragraph 3 of DBI&E is to my mentioning that state and local budget surpluses have been growing lately and therefore it might be somewhat easier for public workers to resist attacks this year than it has been the past few years. Now first of all the authors of DBI&E, with their usual lack of respect for the particularity of contradiciton, cannot believe that state and local budget surpluses could possibly be increasing since to their minds this indicates that the crisis of the cities is over or at least getting better. Here again, however, we must sharply distinguish between short term movements and the developing underlying crisis. (For the economic statistics behind my statement see Business Week, Aug. 15, 1977, page 20.) The authors of DBI&E seem to deny here that the chances for victorious economic struggle by city workers is improved when city budgets are healthier, even though they themselves agree with the May 1977 issue of Revolution which points out that the ability of the bourgeoisie to grant concessions is undermined with the growth of their economic difficulties. (DBI&E, p. 11) I am afraid, comrades, that you are caught in another inconsistency.
(To admit that the economic health of a city or company—both short term and underlying—is a factor in its ability to grant concessions to the workers (or its necessity to take back previous gains by the workers) is by no means to agree with the bourgeois theory that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie have common interests, any more than is the concomitant fact that real wages tend to rise during a boom and fall during a depression. The real interests of the proletariat are not in the short term improvements which can temporarily be wrung out of the capitalist during “good times.”)
19. Critical Support for McGovern.
Back in 1972 I wrote a paper called “A Response to the Paper on Elections” in which I advocated a policy of critical support for McGovern. This has been shown beyond any doubt to have been an extremely serious error. (The Paris Peace accords of 1973 made this obvious, not to mention the complete liberation of south Vietnam in 1975.)
I still think there might be very exceptional situations when it would be correct to support a bourgeois (or social-bourgeois) candidate, though there certainly is no example of this in U.S. history so far. As for 1932 Germany I am not so sure, though I lean towards the view that a common electoral front against he Nazis would have been correct. And in fact I still think something like the two criteria listed in my 1972 paper are correct.
[Note added 9/8/05: The two criteria referred
to above are:
Those who read my 1972 paper will see that I had no illusions about the possibility of revolution through the ballot box. I viewed critical support for McGovern as for a very limited (but very imporant) special purpose—to help speed the withdrawal of U.S. imperialism from Vietnam by 4 years. If such support could have actually had this effect then I still think it would have been worth it.
However I was greatly in error in thinking this was true. As I see it now (and as I recall from my 1972 paper which I haven’t reread for several years), my mistakes were:
The war had already gone on for over a decade and I believed that the U.S. imperialists still had the strength to hang on for 4 more years (though not the strength to hang on forever or to defeat the revolution). I was also misled by the PRG’s evident support for McGovern as a signal that they themselves viewed the situation in the same way.
Fortunately the RU (both its leadership and the vast majority of its members) had a much better understanding of the real situation than I did.
The question arises again, however: what in the world has this past error (since self-criticized) got to do with the present dispute over the mass line and our work at Muni? If this is the procedure to be followed in figuring out who is right and who is wrong, then I guess I should have set to work to delve extensively into comrade D.’s past history of rightism and economism, for which he has been severely criticized, but of which he is still guilty in my opinion (though not perhaps to anything like the same extent). As for comrade G., I do not know his political history. Possibly he is perfect and has never made a political error...
20. The 1976 Elections.
I supported the line of the Party center on the 1976 presidential election completely—contrary to the completely unfounded slanderous remark on the top of page 15 of DBI&E. At a meeting of the UWO I was asked to speak briefly about the anti-labor ballot measures in San Francisco in this same election. I said that a sharp distinction had to be drawn between the national election and the local election; that unlike the question of which rich man’s candidate became president, the working class did have a vital interest in the fate of these ballot measures, and urged a strong campaign to defeat them. A certain comrade stood up after me to remind everyone that our view of the coming election was that the working class had no stake in it. A few days later comrade G. criticized my comments at the UWO meeting in the same manner.
After the election, however, the Party center had this to say:
I guess you must have forgotten, comrade G., that with this election it was you who championed an incorrect line, not me. (This is another instance, by the way, of failing to recognize the particularity of contradiction in things.) Comrade D. (who is in charge of the work) was in a terrible fog about how to deal with this election among Muni drivers, which is the main reason why we didn’t take it up. As for the one thing we did do, the pathetic “press conference of rank and file Muni drivers”—I stand with my remarks in “Draft Notes”, pp. 16-17.
I would like to remind anyone who has read this far that I regard my “Draft Notes” paper as an adequate rebuttle to DBI&E on most points. I believe that my characterization of the opposing line in “Draft Notes” has been shown to be accurate, as well as my characterization of the fundamental error these comrades are making. I believe that despite its nearly unbelievable weaknesses, the DBI&E paper at least confirms this.
As for the future of this debate I can only say that my expectation is that the much more profound knowledge of M-L, MTT at the Party center will lead to a criticism of the authors of DBI&E and to the regional leadership for endorsing this erroneous line.
If my forthcoming appeal to the Central Committee fails, then I will of course do my best to impliment the regional leadership’s interpretation of the mass line until such time as the Party determines this discussion may be reopened.
[Note added 8/23/05: The reference to an “appeal” in the final paragraph above was written before I was actually expelled from the RCP on Oct. 30, 1977. Once that happened the appeal I actually submitted was in relation to that expulsion, not simply in relation to the position on the mass line taken by the DBI&E paper. —S.H.]
— End —
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