Marxism Today: Building a Marxist-Leninist Party requires perseverance and commitment
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We have recently posted CPA (M-L) founding chairman Ted Hill’s 1970 funeral oration for Jim Scott (go to the “About Us” drop down menu at the top of our website and then to “Our Comrades”).
Jim Scott had a unique significance among the departed comrades that we feature in this part of our website. He joined the Communist Party of Australia in 1920, the year in which it was founded. He also joined the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) when revisionism in the CPA required its reconstitution as a revolutionary organisation. Indeed, he participated in its founding Congress in March 1964.
Jim Scott made a life-long commitment to the study and application of Marxism-Leninism and to the cause of the emancipation from capitalism of the Australian working class. In his early thirties when he joined the CPA, he shared with it the first 50 years of its existence, including the six years to 1970 as the CPA (M-L).
Hill described Jim Scott as “a person of revolutionary integrity and principle…. he never wavered and he passed with great credit all the tests.” Hill could have been describing himself in these words.
Hill, Jim Scott and all the other veterans of our cause exemplified the perseverance and commitment required to build a genuinely Marxist-Leninist party and to extend its influence under the conditions of an advanced capitalism dominated by US imperialism and in both the highs and lows of working class struggle. We feature them in the “Our Comrades” section so that we can continue to learn from them. Those of us who may be said to be the current generation of veterans of the Party are only too well aware of our own deficiencies and of the need to model ourselves on the Hills, the Scotts and others of previous generations. We respect and learn from our veterans’ vast experiences and practice of building a Marxist-Leninist party and revolutionary movement in Australia.
Renewed interest in joining the Party
We are living at a time when the CPA (M-L) is again attracting the interest of people who want to make a commitment to ending capitalism, to developing as Marxist-Leninists to serve the people in the protracted struggle for socialism as the contradictions and extremes of capitalism are becoming increasingly clear. There is renewed interest in joining the Party, especially from young people. It is a welcome sign that we are emerging from a period of relative stagnation, from a time when the edge had been taken off working class struggle by the witting or unwitting complicity of the unions in the legal and other restrictions placed on them, and by the continuing hold of parliamentarism on otherwise quite politically aware people.
It is important that there is ease of mind on the part of those coming into the Party about what their commitment means and about the prospects for involvement in struggle. Not anyone can or should join a revolutionary party. The party works as a collective and there is no place for capitalist individualism, self-promotion or factionalism. We are not a debating club or a left bloc. Membership requires close connections to the people, particularly in struggles of the people. Mass work and social investigation is the bed-rock of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L)’s ideology, political work and organisation.
Hill, as founding Chairperson of the CPA (M-L) said he wanted the party to be hard to join and easy to leave. He was reflecting Lenin’s famous dictum “better fewer, but better” ( https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/mar/02.htm ), written in 1923 when Lenin argued for “extraordinarily strict” conditions on the recruitment of workers into the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party).
“Hard to join” should not be misunderstood. No-one joins a revolutionary party as a ready-made Marxist-Leninist. We all develop over time. Party membership should be open to any person who agrees with the Party Program, accepts its organisational principles and rules, and is prepared to put these things into practice. For any person wishing to have a merely platonic relationship with the Party, sympathising with it or only partially agreeing with it, and not being prepared to work for it, then there should not be a readily available open door.
Likewise, “easy to leave” does not mean adopting a laissez-faire attitude towards one’s responsibilities. However, all development is uneven and some people can swing from commitment to indifference and apathy, or even embrace revisionism and outright factional activity. Or they might win the lottery. With a change of social being comes a change of social consciousness.
Hill envisioned neither a tiny closed sect nor an open mass organisation. In Party building, these two extremes constitute a unity of opposites and there is both attraction and struggle between them. What must be striven for is a balance based on the prevailing conditions of the consciousness of the working class and the level of stability or crisis in the system we are trying to abolish.
Learning from mistakes
It is inevitable that mistakes have been made, and continue to made, in a permanent cycle of building the Communist Party. It is dialectical materialism. We are the first to admit that we have sometimes made mistakes. We learn from the experiences of past and present mistakes and guard against repeating these errors, or veering to the opposite extremes in rectifying them. There are times when we have not been bold enough in approaching people to join the Party – some very good people who should have been approached were not. At other times, people were brought into the Party, and then neglected, given no guidance in how to undertake work for the organisation. They subsequently left, through no fault of their own or were driven out by bad leadership decisions.
New Party members must be helped to have a realistic view of what their membership of the Party entails. At the height of the upsurge brought on by the battles against conscription and the Vietnam War, there was substantial recruitment of revolutionary workers and students. Some of those have indeed stood the test of the times; for others, joining the Party was akin to running away to sea to join the pirates. When the great upsurge abated in the late 70s and early 80s they failed to adjust to falling away of revolutionary activity. Their romanticism foundered on the rocks of reality. The material conditions and the all-pervasive influence of social democracy took its toll on some.
Many young Australians (even some of our veterans!) have taken to the surf and will, perhaps, appreciate this analogy. You can have the healthiest physique and the best surfboard in the world, but to successfully catch a wave you need to have some experience and an appreciation of the laws of motion of the sea. Professional surfers pay close attention to this and develop from initial impressions to real knowledge. Be that as it may, any surfer will simply waste their energy, burn themselves out, and ultimately give up if the first thing they do is wildly paddle when there is no swell coming through and no wave about to break. Or if the swells are irregular and the waves are slow in forming, and the sun is weaving its soporific charms, they may doze off and be caught unawares when a wave does approach.
The key thing with surfing is to practise, practise and practise, being prepared to fall off and take reasonable risks. You can know everything about the surf but unless you keep getting out and riding waves you'll never improve. The combination of involvement in struggle, with theory developing from that and being tested and refined again and again in struggle, is essential for every party member.
Also, we need to know our limitations. We can't be involved in giant confrontations with the state if we aren't properly prepared for it.
The lesson here is that Party building will inevitably occur in periods of both social stability and social crisis, both in the absence of a revolutionary situation and under conditions of revolutionary upheaval. Objective conditions combined with the Marxism-Leninism practised by the revolutionary organisation determine the pace of Party building in different conditions. For many of us, our Party membership will cover more of the former period than the latter and will have to be sustained over the long haul by a more than instinctive grasp of the laws of motion of capitalism. It will be sustained by an appreciation that there is a revolutionary movement consisting of the comrades one has in the Party and the people who follow its analyses and pronouncements, and that this revolutionary movement exists even in the quietest and most non-revolutionary times. Indeed, its existence is absolutely necessary to our ability to correctly anticipate and provide leadership when a revolutionary situation matures. The optimism of Marxist-Leninists comes from understanding the social and economic laws of capitalism and the unshakeable confidence in the collective power of the people in struggle.
Revolutionary movements prepare the way for revolutionary situations
Building a revolutionary movement in the absence of a revolutionary situation confronted the founders of Marxism-Leninism. Marx took up his study of political economy in the social nadir that followed the revolutionary situation in 1848. In 1858-9 he authored “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”, advising his comrades that “Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such an epoch of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production.”.
In 1905, a democratic revolution led by striking workers and mutinous sailors broke out in Russia. Even in that period of heightened revolutionary activity, Lenin had to warn that “It must not be forgotten that the current pessimism about our ties with the masses very often serves as a screen for bourgeois ideas regarding the role of the proletariat in the revolution” (Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution).
In January 1930, after the defeat of the Northern Expedition (First Revolutionary Civil War) and the bloody suppression of the Communists by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, Mao Zedong had to fight Lin Biao’s pessimism regarding the development of the revolution and wrote his essay “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire”.
So, there is nothing new in the ebbs and flows of protracted struggle facing a revolutionary movement. What we can learn from the lives of Comrades Scott and Hill, and from the Marxist classics, is the need for perseverance and commitment based on an understanding of the laws of motion of contemporary capitalism. Our new comrades will inherit the revolutionary style of building the Party free of both romantic impetuosity and soul-destroying pessimism. We welcome enquiries about membership and will respond as quickly as we can.
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