As communists in Canada, one of our most important tasks over the next few years, will be to restore the necessary consistency—forging the essential unity that should exist between revolutionary content and revolutionary activity—between affirmation and action, between saying and doing, which are too often dissociated. Such a lack of consistency is most evident in the question of armed struggle and revolutionary war.
The most pernicious result of the long reformist tradition in the international labor movement is that it has managed to dissolve this unity, even among those who pretend to criticize and struggle against reformism and revisionism. The influence, the strength, the ascendancy of reformism (and revisionism), is not only measured through the ups and downs of its own organizational avatars (parties, unions, governments), but by the power of political censorship imposed on the entire labor movement. All of these problems make it difficult for revolutionaries to imagine the possibility of true emancipation beyond the confines of the discipline imposed by the imperialist, democratic and bourgeois States.
Such a discipline is imposed by bourgeois democracy—the framework in which the legal struggle for making and winning claims (mainly economic and trade unionist) functions—, parliamentary elections, as well as the general political freedoms granted to the workers’ movement in exchange for complete disarmament of the proletariat and its organizations.
Reformism tends to generate and impose critics upon its opponents and adversaries who oppose the discipline of bourgeois democracy. This is what explains the virulence of the struggle of the Italian Communist Party against the Red Brigades in the early 1980s. The Red Brigades challenged the discipline and the political order and addressed themselves to the Italian proletariat through a practical perspective (which also contained its share of weaknesses and errors) of an “emancipated communist struggle.”
Revisionist critics could not tolerate such a breach in the discipline imposed by bourgeois democracy. Indeed, part of the Italian proletariat refused to be lumped together behind this narrow discipline imposed by all trends, all fractions and all shades of reformism who saw this breach as a threat. The Italian Communist Party then developed an extreme form of anti-Marxist revisionist positions: “The objective to be pursued with vigour and tenacity is political isolation, cultural, moral of subversion, of violence, of commando action and of the criticism of weapons.” Similarly, and following the logic of the State the same party argues: “The relationship between the working class and the state, born out of resistance, has never been based on opposition to each other, or on the will to destroy it, not even during the worst periods of repression.”
Therefore, at crucial moments revisionism and all forms of sweetened socialism stand integrally with the bourgeois state. They become disciplined. Here, we should immediately be reminded of the historical example of European social democracy during the First World War and the great struggle of Lenin for communist resistance and civil war against the emerging chauvinistic compromise and pro-imperialist socialism.
The effect of historical revisionism does not simply render communism meaningless—perverting its principles, goals, and the means to embark on a liberating project—but is also to bring the majority of revolutionary communists who claim to be the opponents of revisionism into the disciplinary orbit of the bourgeois state.
Hence, we should not merely be satisfied with a general critique of revisionism. We must examine our own activities and ask the following question: is it possible that we are still affected, despite our criticisms, by some of revisionism’s most insidious conceptions, including its conceptions regarding our relation to the imperialist bourgeois state and the discipline it imposes? After all, how else can we explain the persistence of a tenacious and lazy conception of struggle that continues to divide our activities into two phases and treats this division as the path to revolution in imperialist countries: first a long legal struggle, secondly a period of armed struggle (the theory of insurrection).
We cannot be satisfied with such a depiction of struggle that, from its point of departure, defeats, dissociates and disarticulates the legal and illegal activity of the Revolutionary Party and submits the latter to the former, thus impoverishing our understanding of the strategy of armed revolution. Claiming, for example, that the conditions that prevail in advanced capitalist countries “require protracted legal struggle to precede the armed revolution” does not provide a clear solution (it produces nothing useful for systematic struggle) but, rather, establishes, with this empty formality, a broad political and outdated screen behind which many vague ideas—and many misconceptions—can easily be hidden and continue their disorganizing effect.
Rather we must follow the example of Lenin who reproached those in his own party who condemned the partisan war, arguing that they were very far from Marxism: “I am hurt by this degradation of the most revolutionary doctrine in the world.”
The fact is that 150 years of Marxism—including all its vitality, its energy , its intelligence and resources—should have been oriented in an almost singular direction: solving the question of the proletarian revolution. Especially since, in 1848, Marx and Engels concluded their founding manifesto by admitting openly this very fact: “[Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Thus, the question of proletarian revolution is not a purely decorative aspect, nor a subsidiary question that we leave to randomness and improvisation.
How, then, can we accept that in the advanced capitalist countries the question of the proletarian revolution, i.e. the strategic line of the revolution, has become the most underdeveloped area of Marxism-Leninism? Its least creative zone, the least productive?
Marx and Engels—who dove into the events of the bourgeois revolution in Europe with a daring and fighting spirit—brought to light, in a series of texts that became famous (Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, The Class Struggles in France, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany), the educational function, maturation and acceleration posed to all revolutionary classes, including the nascent proletariat, by the direct participation in revolutionary struggles, uprisings, insurrections. It was Engels who wrote:
“It is this rapid and passionate development of class antagonism which, in old and complicated social organisms, makes a revolution such a powerful agent of social and political progress; it is this incessantly quick upshooting of new parties succeeding each other in power, which, during those violent commotions, makes a nation pass in five years over more ground than it would have done in a century under ordinary circumstances.” In the same series, Engels wrote his famous passage on the rules of the insurrection in the revolution.
At the same time, while being directly involved with these struggles, Engels is clear that the dispositions of classes in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe at this time is that which corresponds to the bourgeois revolution; he is ingenious enough to recognize that the insurrectionary struggles of 1848 are nothing more than the military translation of the same political disposition of classes in the context of the bourgeois revolution. In 1852, just three years after the Manifesto, Engels wrote:
“Hence modern warfare presupposes the emancipation of the bourgeois and peasants; it is the military expression of this emancipation. The emancipation of the proletariat, too, will have its particular military expression, it will give rise to a specific, new method of warfare. Cela est clair. It is even possible already to determine the kind of material basis this new warfare will have.”
The least we can say is that revolutionary audacity provides clarity! In 1848, the Manifesto warns that communism can be achieved only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social order. Then, observing and acting in the bourgeois revolution, Marx and Engels deduce this fundamental point that is worth noting: “The emancipation of the proletariat will also have a special military expression and a new specific method of waging war.” Did we stay there? This question is central.
Some, at least, have remained static. Swept into a long legalistic drift, many supposedly communist parties simply ignore the means and forms of revolutionary struggle in the advanced capitalist countries. Revisionism literally endorsed the merger of the labor movement with bourgeois democracy in imperialist states; it held and still holds the same kind of opportunism right at the heart of the labor movement.
Lenin defined opportunism in the following manner: “Opportunism means sacrificing the fundamental interests of the masses to the temporary interests of an insignificant minority of workers or, in other words, an alliance between a section of the workers and the bourgeoisie, directed against the mass of the proletariat.”
Around the world, on every continent, the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution took the form of a struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism/opportunism. This ideological, political and military struggle shook the proletariat and the oppressed masses. The working class had to retreat. The bourgeoisie has increased its exploitation system; it has encroached upon the very existence of the proletarians, their lives, their health, their freedoms and political rights. Entire nations were kept in bondage, imperialism still enjoying this filthy opportunity to increase the misery of the masses to varying degrees and in dizzying proportions.
At the political level, revisionism and opportunism have done everything possible to exclude Marxism from the labor movement. Organizations, fronts of struggle, and parties were liquidated, opportunism preferring to leave to the task of the political education of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie and its state.
Revisionism’s steady growth has resulted in tendency that reconciles the labor movement with bourgeois democracy. The former can now, without any problem, persist within the discipline imposed by the bourgeois state, which it renews and constantly regenerates, thus accelerating the dissolution of the proletariat as a politically conscious class within bourgeois democracy. Indeed, pacifism, legalism, parliamentarianism, bourgeois trade unionism and nationalism coalesce to serve the imperialist interests of the big bourgeoisie—all are dedicated to this “bringing together” that is wholly alien to Marxism.
In the imperialist countries, the proletariat pays the political price for its incorporation within the confines of bourgeois democracy. The level of organization is low; understanding the ways and forms of class struggle is largely deficient. In general, this proletariat is unprepared, or at least poorly prepared, for the clashes and battles to come.
Lenin in particular never sought to evade the heavy burden imposed by opportunism; on the contrary, he made it his target. Above all, he sought to explain, at a theoretical level, opportunism as the mainstream current of the labor movement in the historical period of imperialism and its prevalent class relations.
On this point, Lenin left us one of the strongest of all the communist ideas, a sharp truth that every communist should apply and translate into its physical activity:
“It is generally agreed that opportunism is no chance occurrence, sin, slip, or treachery on the part of individuals, but a social product of an entire period of history. The significance of this truth is not always given sufficient thought. Opportunism has been nurtured by legalism.”
Lenin, however, does not take the crude position that “illegality,” in the immediate sense of the word, necessarily preserves us from opportunism. It would be silly, mechanistic and contrary to the historical experience of the international proletariat to assume that this is the case; opportunism, as a mainstream current linked to a historical period, is also at work in the practice of revolutionary wars. Rather, Lenin examines the problematic in a broader sense: legality is a strong trend; it is the “gulf stream”—the wave that operates beneath the conditions of imperialism, pushing for the dissolution of the proletariat as a class (in the political sense) within bourgeois democracy. It is against this trend that we must fight.
Let’s take a few steps back and examine the contemporary period of 2000 in light of the firm conviction expressed by Engels in 1852: “The emancipation of the proletariat, too, will have its particular military expression, it will give rise to a specific, new method of warfare.” What do we see? A result that is simultaneously complex and simple. Two conflicting powers, two contradictory movements that cannot indefinitely share the same space and thus tend to annihilate each other in order to be validated by history. Two positions in opposition while not being completely free from each other.
These two giants are the “bourgeois” labor movement and the movement of the oppressed masses. For the “bourgeois” labor movement, which culminates in the merger with its own imperialist bourgeois state, there is no horizon beyond bourgeois democracy. Consequently, there is also no revolution upon which to reflect, learn from, or prepare for and organize. The other movement, the movement of the oppressed masses led through several steps towards the proletarian revolution and communism, is revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, and Maoism today, which must exert all of its strength in order to reflect, learn, prepare and organize the revolution—that is to say, resolve the question of proletarian power.
The first movement’s vector of its realization, its vehicle, has long been the discipline imposed by the imperialist bourgeois state (legal protest movement, elections, political rights granted in exchange for the complete disarmament the proletariat). The second movement—the legitimate revolutionary movement of the proletariat and the oppressed masses—presents us with a considerable challenge, the issue of the Revolutionary War, which is the expression of its achievement as the motion of history.
In his famous 1988 interview, Chairman Gonzalo of the Communist Party of Peru reaffirmed the PCP’s conviction on People’s War: “The way we see this question is that when Chairman Mao Zedong established the theory of people’s war and put it into practice, he provided the proletariat with its military line, with a military theory and practice that is universally valid and therefore applicable everywhere in accordance with the concrete conditions.” Without even trying deliberately to “close the loop,” Chairman Gonzalo was answering, 130 years later, the question Engels posed regarding the particular military expression of proletarian emancipation.
Some have treated, and continue to treat, this political position of the PCP as an abuse or a generalization of the concept of People’s War developed and applied by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party. This is the case of many Marxist-Leninist organizations worldwide, including the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States as well as parties and organizations that signed in 1998 the General Declaration on Mao and the People’s War, in which these parties advocate, in all advanced capitalist countries, a long legal struggle.
We believe that the PCP position is correct, despite inaccuracies it contains and which are in any case inevitable when developing and generalizing what remains after all a human practice, a conscious practice. In our view, as in any historical activity which presupposes concrete terms, what is generalized, that which rises to the level of universality, is the knowledge and science produced by this historical practice, not the contingencies of the specific activity in question.
The current communist movement is in a period where it must reaffirm the fundamental political bases of revolutionary communism, so as to extract all that has been perverted by revisionism and opportunism. Whether we like it or not, this is the current moment of historical materialism. In these circumstances, our method of studying and understanding issues related to the strategic line of the movement must involve going constantly back and forth between the political and military line, so as to strengthen the politics first then, after doing so, strengthening the military line… and back again, strengthening the political line, and so on.
It serves no purpose, and is also completely contrary to Marxism, to separate the political and the military and drawn only military lessons from the military. In fact, it only serves to say something like: “this and this is not applicable, therefore, remain in prolonged legal struggle!”
During the 1980s and 1990s, organizations and parties have endeavoured to bring the best of their abilities to Marxism-Leninism and its foundational orientation, which is that of the Manifesto—the violent overthrow (not by choice but by necessity) of any existing social order. We believe that there are two fertile sources of this salutary movement.
There are Maoist communist parties in several countries dominated by imperialism which developed the People’s Wars in Peru, the Philippines, Turkey, Nepal, and India. These are titanic struggles that involve the reversal of a strong and well-prepared enemy, starting with opportunism and defeatism on which it is based. Despite this, and precisely because it is a titanic struggle, we must look to the future with optimism. The masses will turn the sharp truths of Maoism into decisive victories. The facts show that this transformation has already begun.
Today, the development of Protracted People’s War as a strategic line of the revolution in many countries already account for a major development of the world proletarian revolution. Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties have forged in the study, understanding and application of this strategic line a new direction for the revolutionary movement. They accumulate valuable experience. They become, by this very fact, stronger and more confident in the principles of struggle. For these parties, like all revolutionary organizations, this growth is crucial. It upsets all reformist and pacifist chimeras. It refocuses the historical truth about the class struggle and armed struggle, the highest form of revolution, as so aptly described by Mao Zedong.
The other source that helped bring the theory of revolutionary struggle to the Communist movement are those parties and organizations, mainly in Europe , that developed a practice of armed struggle linked to the proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries. Italian Communists, during and after the experience of the Red Brigades, the Fighting Communist Cells in Belgium, the Spanish Communist Party (Reconstituted), and some others have produced a devastating criticism of the communism disciplined by the bourgeois state, and especially the purely wishful insurrectionary scheme. These parties and organizations, though, do not possess the same political understanding of the armed struggle; it would be misleading to believe otherwise. But we intend to enhance our study of the respective political positions of these parties and organizations.
Nevertheless, it is all too obvious to us, at this point, that the proletariat of the great imperialist country can in ten, twenty, or the next fifty years, directly confront the bourgeoisie that is in a deep crisis where it is struggling to govern properly, hence reasserting the question of proletarian power against the bourgeois state according to those revolutionary communist parties and movements that:
- Took care to build their strength in a fair and thoughtful combination of legal and illegal struggles, among other actions of armed propaganda, and in all phases of the development of the party;
- Began long military preparation that was adequately adapted to the specific conditions of the country, learning how to fight and win battles;
- Undertook activities largely designed to weaken, disrupt and break the abilities of the military and other law enforcement forces for the State;
- Laid the foundations of a people’s Red Army;
- Undertook, along with the proletarian masses, the establishment of a people’s government in the main cities of the country, from which the proletariat would be able to launch attacks in its struggle against the bourgeois state;
- Consciously prepared the proletariat for self-direction, based on the absolute confidence that the party has in the proletarian masses in all phases of the Revolutionary War against the bourgeois state.
This paper was issued in January 2000 by Action Socialiste and first made public in No. 5 issue of Socialisme Maintenant! Journal.
1 Ugo Spagnoli in the book “Terrorisme et Démocratie”, ed. Sociales.
3 General Declaration on Mao and People’s War, Dec. 1998.
4 Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, 1906.
5 Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, 1852.
6 Engels, Conditions and Prospects of a War of the Holy Alliance against France in 1852, 1851.
7 Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International, 1915.
8 “Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not remain in power.” (Lenin, Speech at the Second Congress of the Communist International: Report on the International Situation and the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International, 1920.)
9 Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International, 1915.
10 Interview with Chairman Gonzalo, 1988.