RRIII essentially put forth the line that uniting with “lesser evil” capitalists would inevitably result in the restoration of capitalism. It was published in 1971 after a prolonged inner-party discussion. This discussion analyzed the experiences of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and especially the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. This discussion concluded that alliances with nationalists and other sectors of the capitalist class, even in the course of an anti-imperialist struggle, resulted in the reversal of workers power. The experiences of the heroic war of the Vietnamese people against French and US imperialism clearly illustrated this reality. The USSR, China, Vietnam, and all other previously socialist countries, once occupying one third of the planet’s land mass, are now firmly capitalist and, in some cases, imperialist.
During the 1970’s, a review of the lead articles in all issues of PL Magazine revealed that on only 2 occasions, in Vol.12, No1, Winter, 1979 (Communism in the Shops: Put the Line On the Line) and Vol. 9, No 6, April-May 1975 (Experiences of Communist Organizing in the U.S Army) were the words “communist” or “communism” on the cover of a magazine which was supposed to be the magazine of a revolutionary communist party! Many of the articles discussed issues relating to revolution and revolutionary developments or setbacks around the world. Many articles discussed reform struggles in the US and around the world. “30 for 40”, INCAR (International Committee Against Racism), and WAM (Workers Action Movement) were all discussed. Comrades were urged to build these movements. The fight against racism was emphasized repeatedly. Building the Party was considered an important aspect of working and leading these movements but, in practice, was secondary.
The efforts by the Party to build these “center-left” movements ultimately failed. The ruling class pushed racism, nationalism, sexism, and drugs while opportunists and revisionists of all stripes used anticommunism to divide and cripple the mass movements of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. The Mack Avenue sit-down in Detroit was a militant action and hoisted the red flag. The INCAR march against ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) in Boston was a magnificent demonstration of the most militant communist-led reform struggle. Nevertheless, the emphasis continued, even in these actions, to be militant reform, not building the Party.
As the Vietnam War wound down and the leaders of the Viet Cong increasingly proved to be more nationalist than communist and quite willing to make deals with the imperialists, the tremendous inspiration that had come from their struggle died out. The Russians and Chinese became more openly capitalist. Students and workers became more cynical and self-involved. The attacks on unions and workers became more intense, not just in the US but worldwide. Capitalism and imperialism became increasingly rampant and unrestrained. US imperialism began planning for a “New American Century” although the Project for New American Century was not established until 1997.
A special issue of Challenge-Desafio was published October 14, 1976 containing an article, “Reform and Revolution”. It was clear that some in the Party leadership recognized the strong pull that militant reformism has always had on communist movements. The party leadership self-critically described what had happened in several strikes in which party members were actively involved. The party leadership took responsibility for “The entire line of putting reform before revolution…We have spent most of the leaflets discussing the ins and outs if the reform struggle…” Of course, the leaflets always ended with the “obligatory final line/paragraph” about the need to fight for socialism.
The world communist movement had been operating since Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program according to the principle of a two-stage revolution. (The Critique of the Gotha Program was a May, 1875 letter Marx wrote responding to a draft proposal for a German Social-Democratic Party.) The first stage, the socialist stage, would preserve important aspects of “bourgeois right”, most importantly the wage system. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds.” Only after material abundance had been achieved would it be possible to transition to the communist stage: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This stage would be characterized by the abolition of money, the withering away of the state, the end of the division of labor, especially as between mental and manual labor, and the end of the division between the countryside and the city. “The full development of each would be the condition for the full development of all.”
The theory of the productive forces underlies this differentiation of the two stages following the seizure of power by the proletariat. This theory argues that the key material difference between capitalism and communism is that communism will unleash colossal productive forces which are now held in check by capitalism and its drive for profit. It is deeply conditioned by the leading ideas of the 19th century which were the inevitability of human progress and the survival of the fittest. Thus, the social system which was most productive would defeat the less productive social system. The class structure of society was not an inherent aspect of the productive forces in this view. The theory of the productive forces is mechanistic in viewing technology as the main component of the productive forces. Dialectics views the forces of production as being composed of the class structure of society, the ideological and cultural superstructure of society, and the technical level of production. When the Soviet Union produced more steel than the US, for example, this was viewed by the “productive forces theorists” as a victory for socialism and a step towards communism! Lenin famously said in 1920 that "Communism is Soviet power and rural electrification". Stalin, Mao and all socialist leaders since have argued similarly.
Towards the end of the 1970’s a number of articles were published in PL Magazine that suggested that the leadership of the Party was becoming even more concerned about the reformist drift in the Party. In April-May 1978 the lead article under a banner headline, REVOLUTION!, was titled, “Armed Insurrection. The Road to State Power”. In July-August 1978, “Revolution or War” was the headline. In September-October 1978, “Revolutionary Violence” was the title of the editorial. Nevertheless, the goal was still “socialist” revolution and little had been done to study the more specific details as to the reversal of workers’ power throughout the socialist world. A question that was being asked of party members by their base, “Why would your party be better than the ones in Russia and China?” required an answer. A study group was set up to analyze the historical experiences of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union.
As the Party studied more deeply the experiences of the socialist revolutions, it became more and more clear that the concessions to “bourgeois right” or capitalist principles in organizing these societies resulted in the development of a class within the Party and within the state apparatus and army and police that did not want to give up the benefits and privileges it had come to take for granted. They lived in better homes and their children attended better schools and benefitted from their parents privileged positions so that they, too, came to have privileged positions. They had better vacations, more power and money, and access to better health care. What did an egalitarian system like communism hold for them?
Our party members studying this history came to the conclusion that socialism was the road back to capitalism, not forward to communism. That introduced another serious problem. How can we transition from capitalism to communism based on a revolution led by a Leninist cadre party, even with a strong base in the working class. Such a party historically has comprised only a minority of the very workers it represents. Moreover, during the “socialist” stage of the dictatorship of the working class after the revolution, the party tends to comprise and represent increasingly the very people whom I have described above, the privileged whose “work” has entitled them to so many more of the benefits of the society.
Our comrades concluded that the concept of the party itself had to be revolutionized. The party had to be a mass party. The party had to include millions of workers. These workers had to be won to the ideas of communism BEFORE the revolution. The party could not have one infallible leader. All workers must be encouraged to become leaders. “They only seem so mighty in our eyes because we kneel. Let us rise!" ...
RRIV was the result of this rethinking. It argued that the party must win workers to communism. That the main aspect of participation in reform struggles is to win workers and their allies to the party and to communism. That spreading Challenge-Desafio as widely as possible was a principal task of all party members. That building a base in the military was a principal task of communists. That there should be one international party, not national parties. That a post-revolutionary society must eliminate money and smash the wage system. “Abolition of the wage system!” as Marx argued in his pamphlet, “Wages, Price, and Profit” of 1865. The principle of communism must be “From each according to commitment; to each according to need.”
One of the main lessons of the evolution of the Party’s thought from RRIII to RRIV is that the struggle against revisionism is most importantly a struggle within the Party, not between our Party and the obviously revisionist parties. Revisionism means that bourgeois ideas and practice become primary within the Party. The contradiction between capitalist and communist ideas is most intense within the Party and reflects the contradiction within each of us. Throughout history it is revisionism and opportunism that have destroyed socialist revolutions. It is to PL’s credit that it has continued to fight revisionism and move the Party to the left. RR IV was a qualitative leap forward in that process.