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Criticism and Self-Criticism: Deepening Roots (1966)

The seed of revolution has been sown again in our land, and our Party can feel some sense of achievement in the part we have taken in this planting. We are still young and small but we have made a strong start. We have done more than scratch the shiny surface of the U.S. ruling class; we have begun to rip away its mask, to expose its ugliness--and to get under its skin.

It's not for nothing the ruling class has decided to make our Party its number one target in the U.S. In a relatively few months, we have set up a national Communist party with a wise and firm foundation of friends, readers, supporters and members among working people, black and white, as well as among the students, in the forefront of today's battles.

Also, we have begun to overcome the main internal weaknesses which had been holding us back. First and foremost we have corrected certain sectarian policies which had isolated us from too many people and organizations in the growing people's movement against the war, slum conditions, high prices, wage- squeezing and other fat-profit Government policies. We know now that in our early stages we under emphasized united front work, neglected the labor movement, and expected too much too soon. Since our founding convention a year ago we have begun to combine with large numbers of people and to take united action with many groups, while maintaining and advancing our Marxist-Leninist principles and actually expanding our advocacy of socialist revolution.

To some extent our early sectarianism was inevitable as we fought to avoid the right-opportunist errors of the old Communist Party which had followed the "three secrets" policy: keep the Party a secret (except from the FBI), keep the activities a secret (even from Party members), and keep revolution and socialism a secret (from the masses of people).

Our members had to fight hard to put forward publicly the principles of socialist revolution. We had to let people know what communism really means, that yes there is a way finally to solve our problems-socialism; and that a Party exists which is not afraid to fight for that solution. We had to and still must struggle to make the idea of revolution popular.

It's not surprising, then, that in our early activities members tended to go overboard and ignore or even reject people and groups who were not yet ready to join us . This early sectarianism hurt us, and it's a tribute to our correct overall political line, and to the energetic, youthful spirit of our members, that we were able to attract so many young radicals, in spite of this weakness.

Sectarianism and isolation remain problems for us today, but they are not primarily problems of policy. On the whole we have corrected our policy, and our significant influence in the current anti imperialist upsurge reflects this change.

At the same time, we have begun to conquer the lack of seriousness which once thrived in our ranks. Here, the enemy has been most helpful. The arrests, subpoenas and physical attacks on us have made every member think twice about why he is sticking with this Party, and understand that the revolution is not to be achieved quickly, but through a lifetime of struggle, continuing, in new forms, even after the working class takes power. Some have chosen to leave, of course, but those who remain are stronger for it.

Here, too, our early policy was wrong, dominated by liberalism and carelessness in recruiting new members. We often placed quantity above quality. Perhaps this, too, was inevitable at the outset. Also, we didn't always sit down and explain to people what they were getting themselves into when they joined a Communist party, what the risks are, the long-range commitment that is a necessary part of the revolutionary ideology. We even had cases where young people with virtually no understanding of what was happening were brought into a club and made voting members.

We have learned from these errors, and changed our membership policy. In general, our members and leaders have been forced to begin thinking about long-term strategy both for their own lives and the life and growth of the Party.

As a result, we can already see an increase in both the quantity and quality of our work, our membership, and our Marxist-Leninist study. Last summer's cadre school was a big step up this hill. Naturally, there remain a few who still have their heads in the clouds, who are still playing at revolution, but we can rely on the ruling class to thump them down to earth.

These successes are only the beginning, and it is easy enough to say that none of the changes has yet gone far enough. But an honest evaluation of our recent growth must emphasize our success and achievement. Our Party has stood like a young sapling in a windstorm of howling attacks, sometimes swaying a little but holding firm and deepening its roots as it grows.


We cannot of course, just sit and admire ourselves in the mirror of achievement. As the situation sharpens we must ask ourselves, will we be prepared? As we expand our circle of friends and relations, will we be able to avoid the opportunist "Hamlin" approach of trailing after every reformist pie-eyed piper in town? And will we at the same time avoid sectarian isolation? Will we continue to struggle as we unite with other people and groups? Will we know how to struggle? Are we perfect or can we improve our work?
If we ask this question and ask it again and again every day in every way then we are halfway improved already. If we do not ask the question, then we will surely become smug and complacent and flabby, and we might as well join Gus Hall and Norman Thomas.

To improve our work means, first, to look for the main weakness or obstacle to our progress. We should not look far. Those who run to Palomar to scan the skies in search of dangers may see many interesting phenomena but they will miss the main point. "It is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." that the main contradiction, and the main obstacle to our continued success, lies. The main cause of failure--like the main cause of success-- is contained within any revolutionary party or movement, not outside it. Those, like the old C.P., who blame the ruling class for their failure are only diverting attention from their own weaknesses or betrayals. Of course, every party must reckon with the real conditions of life around it, but the party's internal strength or weakness will determine how well it reckons.

Our Party's main obstacle is the influence and ideology of bourgeois society within our ranks. Our most decisive struggle today is between revolutionary and bourgeois ideology, and particularly between revolutionary morality and bourgeois individualism, between complete dedication to the working class and middle-class self-interest, which is the moral and material basis of modern revisionism.

The existence of bourgeois ideas, attitudes and habits within our ranks is hardly astonishing. At this early stage, our Party, like most new-born revolutionary parties, has a large percentage of intellectuals and members of middle-class background. Moreover, every revolutionary party has internal struggle reflecting the class struggle in the society around it. And the society around us in this case causes some pretty weird reflections.

The U.S. capitalist class is not only the richest, most powerful ruling class in history, it is also the most corrupt, most brutal, most degenerate and most egotistic; and the ruling class tries to impose its own morality on the whole of society. It's not just "getting and spending" that is too much with us. Books, newspapers, comics, teachers, philosophers, politicians, psychiatrists, movies, and especially television all give subtle daily indoctrination in the basic elements of capitalist, and fascist, morality: Might-makes-right (the tough guy is the good guy) and Me-before-every-one-else ("Don't trust nobody").

From our first breath we breathe this stuff. How could we possibly be completely free from it? The history of the left in the U.S. shows one group after another surrendering to this bourgeois self-interest, first slowly, then completely abandoning the difficult struggle against the ruling class and ending up in the comfort corner of class collaboration.

Yet it need not always be so. The bourgeois ideology in our ranks can be a good thing, too. If we recognize and know how to deal with it, we can grow stronger as a result of having purged it away. This experience can be a valuable lesson for the future. When the working class takes power, bourgeois influences do not automatically disappear, as we can see by looking at the countries ruled by revisionist parties. If internal contradictions are mishandled in a socialist country the result may be disastrous, as we can see by looking at these same countries.

Once we recognize that bourgeois influences are inevitable in our ranks, then the whole question becomes how do these influences crop up, and how should we handle them. If we fail to handle correctly the problem of bourgeois ideology, then the Party itself, and particularly the leadership, must accept responsibility for the consequences. We cannot blame it on society.

The ideological struggle is the primary struggle. Its outcome, in the long run, determines the political line and the organizational form. This struggle includes understanding and developing the ideology of the working class as well as battling against bourgeois ideology.

At the same time, we must know how to conduct this struggle. Here, it is particularly important to distinguish between antagonistic and non-antagonistic struggle; we want to wipe out antagonistic bourgeois ideas and habits, not the individuals who display, often unknowingly and usually without antagonism, those ideas and habits.

But before discussing how to deal with the problem, let us look more closely at the problem itself.


The corrupt influence of capitalist morality crops up in many ways. The contradiction between this influence and our Party's collective, revolutionary spirit and goals takes many forms.
Sometimes there will be an open ideological dispute between two lines. A few of our members wanted to support Johnson against Goldwater in the last elections, arguing that Goldwater would expand the war, bomb north Vietnam, draft hundreds of thousands of U.S. boys, and other such things. In the course of discussions this position was clearly exposed as an opportunist abandoning of the working people's interest. Later Johnson helped make it even clearer.

That was a case where one line was revisionist and the other was Marxist-Leninist. That is the best form of contradiction for our Party. It is open and clear cut. The debate is political and the revisionist or other incorrect position is exposed and eventually rejected. Such debates should be welcomed and carried to the end. At this stage in history, the struggle against revisionism is the main struggle within the revolutionary movement.

Thanks mainly to the consistently negative example of the U.S. revisionists and social democrats, our Party has not had too much difficulty with these policy disputes. However, we must be continuously alert to bring such disputes out in the open when they arise.

We intend to deal mainly with those aspects of this contradiction which are more concealed; with the struggle against bourgeois habits and ideas, which are often little understood by those who harbor them. Here, the two main conflicts are between bourgeois individualism and revolutionary dedication, and between pragmatism and Marxist-Leninist analysis and planning.

Bourgeois individualism is a fancy term for selfishness. That is, capitalist selfishness, selfishness for personal gain, prestige, power, comfort or material goods-- usually at the expense of others. People with this approach have an amazing variety of rationalizations.

"The heads of such people are stuffed with the ideology of the exploiting classes. They believe that 'Every man is for himself' 'Man is a selfish animal' and 'No one in the world is genuinely unselfish unless he is a simpleton or an idiot.' They even use such exploiting class rubbish to justify their own selfishness and individualism." (Liu Shao-chi, XI, How to Be A Good Communist, Feb. 1946 edition. p. 58)

The conflict or contradiction within our Party, and -often within an individual member, is between the individualist tendency, which is the authentic Golden Rule of capitalism, and a dedication to the working class and the vast majority of the world's people, a dedication that makes socialist revolution and the achievement of communism more important than personal gain. It might be more accurate to say that through this dedication our selves become one with our class, and personal gain is achieved only through a gain for the entire class.

In other words, how much do we want this thing, this revolution? That's what it all comes down to. Is it more important to us than ourselves, our personal comfort, prestige, money, or life? Are we willing to remold ourselves into integral parts of a revolutionary party, to subordinate and eventually transform the old self into the new self which exists only through our Party and our unending fight for revolutionary change?

At this point a cry of protest will no doubt arise from many a radical heart. "No," they will exclaim, "we cannot live only through the Party! That is denying our humanity! Our individual essence! Our goal of full and free and creative expression for each! We will sacrifice our time, our energy, our money, but never our minds, never our hearts! "

Some may say these things having been sincerely repelled by the unfeeling bureaucracy of the old CP. And it is crucial that we avoid any repetition of that Gus Hall-itis. But it is intriguing that those who argue so long and loud about feeling and thinking often do amazing little of either.

It is self-evident to anyone who dares to look that we do not want an unfeeling, unthinking party. Such a party could not last two days as a revolutionary force. A party whose members don't feel pain and suffering could hardly burn with a desire to wipe out the rats and slumlords who are eating away at the flesh and blood of our ghetto children. A party whose members do not care for their fellow men could hardly care whether or not coal miners can afford to send their children to hospitals. A party whose members cannot love the people cannot hate the ruling class. A party which does not know trust and confidence in humanity could never build a society based on that trust and confidence. And as for thinking, the entire science of Marxism-Leninism requires thinking, a science which enables us to understand--only through hard thinking--the rules of reality and change, to develop new thoughts on how to make life better for the vast majority of people, and to fight effectively the long war against those who fear ideas. Without creative, individual thinking, there is no Marxism-Leninism. Automatons will never make a revolution, and any automatons within our ranks are useless at best.

The question is: What is the aim of feeling and thinking? For whom and to what end? Are we grumbling about going to a meeting because we would rather sit home and watch TV, or because it may be keeping us from selling newspapers to working people in our community? Do we worry when making a public speech or writing an article about our prestige, how we will look, or about how people will respond to the ideas we express? When deciding for or against a demonstration do we consider the best interests of the Party or are we more concerned with staying out of jail?

In other words, don't stop thinking and feeling, but change the purpose for which we think and feel if the purpose is wrong. Use our minds and hearts--as well as our time and energy--for the working class. The statement, "I'll give my time and energy for the Party but not my heart" reveals a person whose time and energy are as empty as his emotions. It is like the artist who says, "I will gladly support the movement, but when it comes to painting, that I reserve for myself." The movement gains little from this support, and even less does the world gain from his painting.


As we said, significant progress has been made since our founding convention. Yet, despite the ruling class attacks on us, some members still think they're playing games. They think they can call "time out" whenever they want. They are as sloppy in their work as in their dress and personal habits. They live in a dream world. They just can't quite understand or believe that our Party is really out to make a revolution, and that making a revolution takes a lifetime, which means as long as we are alive, and then some. You can't really blame these people too much. After all, the U.S. Left has been non revolutionary for so long that revolution is a brand new thought to most newcomers.

The lack of seriousness first crops up in a lot of "little" day-to-day ways: The student PLer who sleeps late instead of getting out on the campus early to talk with more people; the member of a neighborhood club who never thinks of writing a story for our newspaper on PL or other community activities; the "organizer" who never stays after a meeting to talk informally because he's always rushing, no matter how late at night, to meet his latest girlfriend; those who just never seem to sell any PL literature, but have seen all the latest movies; those in study groups who read assignments as if they were carrying out the hardest job, or don't bother to read at all.

These habits and dozens of others--lazy, degenerate attitudes--are simply self-indulgence. They grow out of a society which makes work a burden and loafing a goal. But they are directly related, as is fear, to the lack of desire for the revolution and lack of understanding of, and commitment to, the working class. Some members who come from middle-class comfort seem to seek a safe little living room to crawl back into from time to time, just as water seeks its own level.

True, revolutionary struggle is often taxing, and everybody needs enough rest to maintain adequate physical and mental health. But racism is a strain on the black people in our country, napalm bombs are taxing to the Vietnamese, and trying to feed a family when you don't have a job can be downright exhausting. The ruling class permits its enemies few vacations.

Let's look closely at the real conditions of this world we tend to live in so complacently. Let us remind ourselves of the napalmed children of Vietnam and the Congo. But that may be somewhat distant, although distance should not be a measure of importance. Let us take ourselves through the ghetto communities of our big cities where we have begun some work or the Kentucky miner's homes, or the Mississippi croppers, or the Puerto Rican "migrant serfs" of New Jersey, or their brother migrants in the Salinas Valley; the rat bites, the TB, the hungry bellies and the soulful eyes, the living death that constitutes the casualty list of the class struggle. Let us make every member understand that war is not a sometime thing.

The leaders of our Party must constantly set an example by hard work, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice. At the same time, we should call attention to Party groups and rank-and-file members whose consistent activities and courage can inspire us all.

Here we should not seek out those who are simply "devoted" to the Party as a blind man is devoted to his seeing-eye dog. When we praise dedication we should praise dedication to revolution, to the working people of our country, and therefore to the Party, as the leading part of but always part of that revolution and that people. No blind men here! Each of us dedicates his eyes to all the rest, and so each of us can see better.

To be dedicated, of course, does not mean to be dead. In striving to overcome carelessness we must avoid the deathly grimness which pervades those few pseudo radical groups which have virtually declared laughter counter-revolutionary. The laughter of our Party is healthy and a sign of great basic strength. In general, individuals who take themselves too seriously, besides being over-stuffed with their own importance, are no fun to be with. Most people laugh even through hardship; if we are people, we'll laugh, too. Unfortunately, a few of our people don't yet understand that we are also revolutionaries, which means that underlying our laughter must be a basic resoluteness. In due time, of course, the enemy will teach these people. But it may be a costly lesson for all of us if we wait till then to learn.


The most serious immediate problem facing our Party is the isolation of too many members from non-Party people, especially working people. This problem persists despite changes away from some early sectarian policies and despite the fact that a significant number of Party members have begun to establish important roots for themselves, particularly in the labor movement. Too many members still have no real friends outside the Party. A few members still shun getting a job. This is not a policy problem today, but a problem of ideology in every one of us.
Some members seem to think that developing friendships with new people is some sort of burden. On certain evenings they'll force themselves out of a sense of duty to visit non-Party contacts, and some won't even do that much. But every free moment they get they'll drop in for a relaxing bull session, cup of coffee, and rest with one of the in-group or "real friends" who are usually in the Party.

This elitist snobbery reflects fear and lack of resoluteness. After all, it takes an extra effort to make a new friend in the neighborhood, in school, or on the job. It may even mean going out of the way, crossing the street to say hello to a neighbor, inviting co-workers over for supper or organizing a party. And why strain ourselves to visit new people's homes when we have such a comfortable "home" here in the social-political clique which, in cases where it applies, we call our Party club?

Another side of this anti-social attitude is the member who has just read the above and said to himself most righteously, "I've got friends outside the party--lots of them!" but who somehow never discusses political questions with any of these friends. He patronizes these non-Party friends by systematically, though not always consciously, excluding them from the supposedly most important part of his life--his commitment to revolution. Not that they have to agree politically, but this patronizing member never even discusses politics with his friends. The result is they are not genuine friends, and they don't develop politically even if they should want to.

No one is arguing here that every friendship and tie outside the Party should be purely or even mainly political. Not at all. The member who can't discuss anything but politics is going to have a rough time when the World Series rolls around. A few of our members still seem unable to say anything but, "Will you come to the demonstration?" when they meet people in the street. But anyone who divides his political comrades from his friends, who keeps one set of ideas for one and another for the other and never the twain shall even overlap, is just as useless as the person with no friends outside the Party.

The whole question of mass work requires an analytical article on its own. But it is basically an ideological question. What do we really want? If we want to make a revolution in this country, we have to win new people and work with people even when we won't win them. We cannot do it alone. Alone, we can make ourselves as snug, and useless, as the cue ball in a corner pocket. In our written work, too, we still tend to be too narrow. Clichés come quick, and some members enjoy attacking everybody and anybody who doesn't agree with us 110 per cent, and everybody is attacked with equal venom. A few members still flinch at the thought of working with other, less "pure" organizations. Of course, polemics such as the recent exchange with Studies on the Left are very useful and should be conducted. But in general, our writers and editors should consider carefully how much space is spent on criticizing--and what is the tone of the criticism--various weak and/or negative tendencies. Let us fire most of our shots, and our most explosive ammunition, at the main enemy--U.S. imperialism and its front men, modern revisionism.


This attitude says, "I will do what I'm asked to do and no more. I will follow orders. I will question nothing. I will not think. I will not criticize. And of my sacred, inner self, I will give nothing." Often, if criticized, members with this attitude will simply withdraw. Basically, this attitude resists change because to change would mean to give of that sacred, inner self which is held above and beyond the Party and the working class. Members with this attitude almost always try to select or somehow manage to get jobs which require the least responsibility. When they are not doing "Party work," they don't think about making revolutionary changes in anything. They are "off the job" until the next meeting or assignment.

If they ever have a new idea it scares the hell out of them, and they quickly smother it as unbefitting a "good" Party member. They are revolutionaries in a rut, which is an impossible contradiction. Sooner or later, usually sooner, the revolutionary must destroy the rut or the rut will destroy the revolutionary, no matter how regularly he attends Party meetings. Even when they work efficiently and devotedly, such members work dully and without initiative. "Initiative is for the leadership." Presumably if the leadership disappeared tomorrow, these members would stop political work because they wouldn't know what to do. Isn't that just what happened in the fifties with so many Communist Party members?

Paradoxically, such people often harbor resentments against one or another of those they consider to be their "employers," usually some among the leadership. In fact, it is sometimes hard to figure out what stubborn streak of personality keeps such people in the Party. Yet if they could only see that it's not so horrible to try something and fail, that failure is in fact a necessary prerequisite for every success, these members usually have great political potential and sometimes even brilliant minds buried beneath their employee mentality.


How shall we react when our weaknesses are pointed out? Unfortunately, it is easy to pick out weaknesses which obviously apply to others and shrug off or ignore our own. That attitude, of course, reflects the very individualism of which all these weaknesses we have mentioned are only different forms.
These weaknesses often reflect a lack of involvement in the daily struggles of the working people. At the same time, they always reflect a low level of revolutionary ideology. To the extent that individualism dominates an individual, to that extent Marxism-Leninism is subordinated. The weakness, in other words, consists of both the existence of bad traits and the non-existence of revolutionary ideology. We must understand this in order to struggle against these shortcomings. When we criticize, and when we suggest ways of improving, we must emphasize Marxist-Leninist study.

To the extent that any of the above mentioned tendencies exist in a member, to that extent personal concern and personal loyalty take the place of class concern and loyalty. But that is precisely the moral and material foundation of modern revisionism. "Don't fight the imperialists because you might get killed." So we can see that bourgeois individualism, if it is unchecked, if it is not consciously opposed in our ranks will lead to revisionism. The struggle against it therefore, must be sharp, and it must be ideological. This can't be said too many times. We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for insuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interests of our fight. Every Communist and every revolutionary should take up this weapon. But liberalism rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, philistine attitude and bringing about political degeneration in certain units and individuals in the Party and the revolutionary organizations. (Mao Tse-tung, Combat Liberalism, Vol. II, Selected Works, December 1965 edition, p. 31.)

We have often been too liberal in the past. We have tended to avoid sharp criticism. We didn't want to hurt feelings, or get someone angry at us. True, there is a place for tact in criticism. But tact is one thing, liberalism--avoiding ideological debate--is something else.

Unless our Party consciously takes up the job of remolding and involves every member on all levels, then simply writing about weaknesses will do little good. Of course, we all have weaknesses. And to say that is to say that we all need to deepen our ideological understanding and revolutionary commitment. But while true, it is also untrue to say, "well, we're all guilty, and we should all improve." If that is all we say, then it's a dodge. Some members are more influenced by bourgeois ideology than others. Some have been more successful in struggling against it, while in some, bourgeois individualism is so pronounced it virtually negates the positive aspects of the members and threatens to disrupt the work of the Party in the particular unit. "Active ideological struggle" is not easy. It means painful and drawn-out transformations of individuals. It means criticizing friends. It means criticizing ourselves. It sometimes means being criticized by three or four or even ten people, and paying careful attention to what each one says. It means asking for criticism instead of avoiding it. It means honestly admitting fears. It means constantly studying the political, economic and philosophical concepts which make up the ideology of revolution, and then thinking about them and trying to apply them. It's not easy. Making a revolution isn't easy.

Good criticism means self-criticism. If one does not consciously seek out his own weaknesses and attempt to improve, one cannot give consistent constructive help to others. The approach to criticism by a member of a club or a leadership body should begin with self-criticism. Unfortunately, many of us have built-in defenses, retained by years of middle-class rationalization.

One member who is particularly guilty of selfish, anti collective attitudes read an early draft of this article and responded by saying, first, "It's good." And then, almost as an afterthought, "I disagree about selfishness being caused by bourgeois society," and continued along the lines that "man is a selfish animal" and the whole pattern described by Liu Shao-chi (cited above) as "exploiting class rubbish to justify individualism." Naturally, this member diligently avoided self-criticism and change.

Criticism and self-criticism constitute the main process of inner-Party struggle to resolve the contradiction between revolutionary and bourgeois ideology within our ranks.

How shall we criticize our comrades? Here, the word comrade is used not just in the formalistic sense of Party member, which is, by the way, a definition quite alien to most people in our country, but in the truest sense-- friend, class brother and fellow-revolutionary. As we said above, most of our comrades who display tendencies of bourgeois individualism do so without bad intention. Their ideology, their attitudes, are enemies. They, as people, are not. Therefore, our criticism must be aimed at changing the comrade, at eliminating his wrong ideas and attitudes, not at driving him away. Our criticism must be aimed at reaching unity--unity based on better understanding of Marxism-Leninism, but unity.

That is the key. Both the comrade offering the criticism and the one receiving it should begin with a clear desire for unity. If either lacks this desire, if either is out to knock the other down or preserve and defend his own position, the criticism may well be wasted. Still, it's important to try. Even if the criticism is not received or given constructively, the discussion may in time lead to an honest re-evaluation with positive results.

There will always be a few who cannot, will not, improve, who refuse to change, who sink deeper into their own selfishness, who break with the Party. But we must make those as few as possible. Even in those cases, the correct handling of criticism may determine whether such persons leave the Party as enemies or as friends with whom we can continue working. We must work hard to improve every comrade. Let those determined to abandon the struggle make that decision for themselves. Sometimes the process of criticism and improvement may take a long time, during which the outcome of the struggle is in doubt. In such cases, it's necessary to reserve final judgment on the comrade in question. But let us not be anxious to write anyone off.

Here, the revolutionary movement has a great need for sensitivity. With the enemy we must be ruthless, as they are with us. But with ourselves, our comrades, our potential comrades, our allies, we must be understanding. All of us are capable of real understanding and friendship, and all of us would like to share these qualities with our comrades.

In relations with our comrades we might keep in mind Keats' plea: "Men should bear with each other more. There lives not the man who cannot be cut up, aye hacked to pieces on his weakest side."

Let us not forget that criticism includes positive as well as negative evaluation. Praising a particular member or unit for worthwhile achievements can be a big factor in improving the whole Party. Those members and groups who usually stay in the background, who do consistent, unglamorous day to day work selling papers, sealing envelopes, talking to people in the community, should be especially singled out for recognition whenever possible. Such positive examples of dedication to the working class may help our members overcome weaknesses more than negative criticism. Inter-club visits should be arranged to help members learn from the best Party groups. Appreciation for positive work must be included in the overall process of criticism.

Criticism, like everything else, contains two opposing aspects. In this case, they are the giving of criticism and receiving of criticism. Both of these opposite positions are essential to the process of criticism or self-criticism, but in determining the outcome of the process one of these is decisive: in almost every case, the receiving of criticism, or the way in which criticism is accepted, determines the success or failure of criticism or self-criticism.

No matter how badly, angrily, or subjectively criticism may be given, if the person receiving the comments has a constructive self-critical and unity-seeking approach he will be able to listen carefully, and draw out the legitimate criticism--often unexpressed in words--from the emotion. On the other hand, no matter how constructively criticism may be presented, if the one being criticized has a bad attitude, does not want unity and does not want to change, the criticism will be useless. Of course, the way in which criticism is given may affect the attitude of the receiver--a little human understanding and self-criticism will make it much easier for others to accept the criticism you offer; but in the final analysis it is that attitude of the receiver which is decisive.

Therefore, let us consider some of the most common wrong ways of receiving criticism, all of which reflect bourgeois individualism.

Some members pay little or no attention to criticism from anyone who happens to be below them on the organizational ladder. They feel it will compromise their prestige and authority. In reality, of course, it is just the opposite. By ignoring honest criticism they lose--and rightly so--both prestige or authority. When leaders have this attitude towards rank-and-file criticism they are bad leaders or even misleaders; if they maintain this attitude they have no business in leadership positions. There is no such thing as rank in the realm of criticism.

Some members will seize on the wrong manner of their critic to evade the content of the criticism; they take advantage of the weakness or inexperience of their critics, and immediately turn upon them and accuse them of "subjectivism" and other such terrible things. Sometimes people raise criticism in the heat of a situation and they don't put it forward in the best way. Of course, this usually turns people off. But even when criticism is not given in the best way, we should try to hear the criticism, evaluate its merits, and then later discuss with the person the manner in which it was given.

Some members adopt the approach of "retaliation" to assuage the wrong they think has been done them. They will listen to criticism only if the person giving it includes an equal amount of self-criticism. The sharper the criticism of them, the sharper they plan to make their retaliation. They are usually so obsessed with measuring the "equality" of the exchange that they pay only the most superficial attention to the content of the criticism. If they are denied the right to retaliate they consider it an undemocratic plot against them. This attitude, of course makes a mockery of the critical process. It is especially a danger during formal criticism meetings.

Then there are the sulkers. They consider it a grave tragedy to have a weakness uncovered and criticized, and they usually adopt a very grim look and go off in a corner and brood for a few days or weeks or even months . They don't understand that the purpose of criticism is to improve the Party through improving its members, and it's not a game of hide-and-seek where you hide your own weaknesses and seek those of others. Sulkers, for all their sulking, usually do little improving. No one can ever be quite sure whether they're trying to change themselves or just to find better hiding places for their flaws in the future.

Then there are the wrigglers and squirmers, the "lawyers" who will try to turn honest criticism into courtroom maneuvers. They will challenge some minor point in the criticism in order to obscure the essence of it: "I never used exactly those words!" They will make their statements as general, and as vague, as possible. They will claim they didn't intend to do what in fact they did. And in general they will talk about anything and everything except the concrete point of criticism which is raised. They are so desperate to salvage themselves that they often actually convince themselves they are being maligned and sometimes even that a conspiracy exists against them. They are like the six-year-old boy who is criticized for throwing a stone at his little brother. "It wasn't a stone, it was just a piece of dirt. Besides, I didn't mean to hit him, I just wanted to scare him. Besides, I didn't throw it at him, I just wanted to see if I could throw it that far." That may be a normal childish response. But how often have we found it in our own members!

Of course, everyone should defend his views as long as he honestly believes them, but the key point is that the aim of this defense--as well as the aim of the views-- must be to improve the work of the Party and the working class.

Criticism will only work if everyone has confidence in the group; if the aim of the criticism and self-criticism is to help the group. In such a situation each person will honestly admit all weaknesses and errors, even those not apparent, not try to protect himself by legalistic maneuvers or obscuring his ideas so no one will be able to tell what he really meant. Who should be so afraid of criticism? Whom are you afraid of? Your comrades? If you are so afraid of your comrades that you will go to such lengths to avoid being honest with them, and yourself, then how will you react to the enemy? The likelihood is you will react like a leaf reacts to a hurricane. On the other hand, confidence in each other and in the group will give us each the strength of our entire Party and enable us to withstand any enemy storms.

What form should criticism and self-criticism take within our Party? Here, flexibility must be the key. The form must be subordinate to the content and the spirit of the criticism. Many forms are useful.

Formal criticism meetings, or what Mao Tse-tung calls a "rectification campaign," in which the entire Party holds unit meetings to deal with a particular weakness such as bourgeois individualism, offer many advantages. First, when such meetings are announced in advance, people will spend time thinking critically about each other, about themselves, and about the ideological weakness. This is especially important when we are not--as too many of us are not--in the habit of thinking critically. Second, when the entire Party launches a "rectification campaign," members will concentrate attention and suggestions on overcoming the main weakness or obstacle to the Party's progress at a given moment. This may avoid scatter criticism, in which everything, big and little, important and unimportant, is discussed at once, and which can often be more confusing than helpful. Third, formal sessions will encourage those members who are more shy to speak out and express their views, which are often extremely valuable. In the process those more withdrawn people may begin to emerge, get more confidence in themselves, and take on more responsibility.

Of course there are dangers in formal criticism sessions. The thing can be abused. We demand too much from people too soon. Even when we try to improve, and even when we make some headway, we tend to slip back, and need constant help from our comrades. Remolding a human being first molded by 20 or 30 years of U.S. capitalism is a long process. The most we can ask is that everyone sincerely try to slowly improve.

Then, too, criticism sessions can be overdone and institutionalized into empty forms. People can begin to think of Tuesday night as Criticism Night, and beat their breasts for a couple of hours, often with incisive criticism and self-criticism, and then go home and forget about it. The Sunday morning sermon with left-wing clichés! Frankly, a good hell-and-brimstone preacher is more fun.

Finally, formal sessions may sometimes embarrass a particular person who is criticized, and make it more difficult for him to accept criticism or to criticize himself. Such attitudes are wrong and we should struggle against them. But we should understand them, and be sensitive to them. Sometimes a private informal chat or series of chats between two or three members, or between some of the leadership and a particular member produce better results than formal meetings.

Still, on the whole, a rectification campaign would be most useful for us at this time, if it is conducted constructively and with common sense. Many types of criticism meetings are possible. Sometimes each member may take turns criticizing himself and the others; or the discussion may center on one particular member; or everyone may evaluate a particular event and each member's role in it; or a particular weakness which is prevalent in the group; or a leading member may be criticized by everyone, at least as the first step.

Whatever the forms, our Party and every member of our Party should recognize the need now for criticism and self-criticism within our ranks, especially aimed at bourgeois individualism.

We must study and learn how to conduct what has come to be known as "inner-Party struggle." In the process, we must concentrate on the basic cause of weaknesses and avoid personal squabbles and mechanical criticism. We have to find ways to keep the discussions as much as possible on an ideological level, and encourage members to express and explain their policy differences whenever possible. The aim of these discussions must not be to "knock" a particular person or to remove anyone from a particular post, although occasionally such action may be necessary. As we said before, the aim of all our criticism and self-criticism must be a new unity of the Party, a unity based on more and deeper political understanding, and a firmer commitment to revolution.

Through all these weaknesses in every aspect, the overriding danger is revisionism: abandoning the international working class, substituting reform for revolution, trying to negotiate the class struggle until you negotiate yourself over to the other side. This is the enemy of the working people of the world, and those who spout this line are as dangerous as their buddies, the Washington war-makers. We must expose them and attack them at every turn, and constantly guard against this ideology within our midst.

We might just mention here the personal inner feelings involved in remolding oneself. It seems paradoxical because most of us cling so desperately to our individualism. Yet no one enjoys fighting the whole world all by himself. And anyone who has gone through discussions where he was criticized, where he recognized his weaknesses, and then improved himself, even partly, knows an exhilarating feeling of freedom--freedom from his internal self-aggravation and fear--and a new self-confidence and confidence in his comrades and in the collective composed of all of them. In that feeling we may get just a glimpse of the man of the future, the communist man, we are working to create.

No criticism, no matter how carefully presented and constructively phrased, should be expected to bring about significant changes in anyone who is isolated from political activity. Any club or group which spends so much time in criticism sessions that it never leaves the meeting room should be sharply criticized. Participation in the struggles of working people, students, farmers and others for a better life is essential in remolding our members.

Within this environment, if we can develop correct criticism in our Party we will see that our errors and weaknesses are not just bad things, but, in fact, can be transformed into good things. We will learn that without mistakes there can be no progress, and discover how to turn weakness into strength.


Planlessness and pragmatism are inherent in the every-man-for-himself capitalist economy. And what leads in economics follows suit in politics and even in military action.

In practice, of course, the ruling class does its best to plan ahead, and we must not underestimate their ability to scheme. But successful planning is against their inhuman nature. So they plan for years to wage a remote-control war in Asia without involving U.S. land troops, and they wake up one morning with a quarter of a million soldiers sinking in the quicksand of aggression in Vietnam. This doesn't mean they are irrational or crazy, just that their original plan couldn't work and they were forced to make new plans--which also can't work. Even in the conduct of their military operations they find themselves, for all their computer-brains, with such chaotic situations as too many ships in one place and not enough ships in another.

Traditionally, the U.S. working class and its leaders have been just as pragmatic as our enemies--if not more so. "But there is no time," we constantly declare in excusing ourselves. "There is so much to do." And so we rush from meeting to meeting and picket line to picket line, wearing ourselves out like the proverbial headless chicken and using just about as many brains.

In our "personal lives," of course, we are capable of great planning, no matter how busy we are. Individuals develop the most intricate schemes for "getting ahead." A student will know exactly which courses he needs to take over a period of years, and which teachers are the "best" in order to achieve whatever degree he has decided upon in order then to get whatever job he is aiming at. On the job, a worker can tell you just what has to be done to achieve a promotion. And housewives are constantly preparing, and applying, the most careful plans not only to get by on inadequate incomes, but often even to save a little bit for hard times. Yet we say we are too busy to plan for our class.

The result is we run the risk of drifting along from day to day following the easiest path, which is usually the wrong path. We don't see problems or dangers which lie ahead, or if we see them we do nothing about them. In the past, faced with unforeseen developments, so-called working class parties have swung back and forth between adventurism and retreat. If the police suddenly attack a demonstration, for example, the demonstrators without a plan either fight wildly, causing needless injuries and extra arrests, or simply run away, dragging their tails behind them. Even if a plan is made for a given demonstration, r o plan is made to follow it up, to consolidate the gains, to raise the protest to a higher level, etc. More often we hear, "Well, let's see how it works out and then we'll decide what to do next."

Our Party's founding convention took a big step towards meeting this problem and provided our members with the beginnings of a realistic long-range outlook for the development of the revolutionary movement in our country. But it was only a start.

Pragmatism in our ranks is mainly an ideological problem and cannot be overcome at one meeting or by one report. We fail to plan because essentially we don't believe in planning. Also, it seems easier not to plan, and those who suffer from laziness will do the least planning. We do not really understand the necessity for planning. We thoughtlessly adopt the bourgeois approach that only God can make a plan.

It's like a football team coming out of a huddle without a play. "Just snap the ball back and we'll see what happens," says the quarterback. What happens is that you can't gain much ground with the other team piled up on top of you.

There are three main ways to overcome this lack of planning in our ranks:


To plan for change without understanding dialectical materialism, the science of change, is like planning a trip to the moon without understanding rocketry, or even basic physics.
Every single member of our party--no matter what his position--needs to study Marxism-Leninism consistently. A few have already done a great deal of reading of Marxist works. Too often, however, these few do not relate what they have read to real life. One former member used to act as if Marxism-Leninism were a series of magic words which need only to be repeated enough times to solve the problems of the world. Therefore, he would repeat the words as often as possible, usually quoting the exact formulation--and only the exact formulation--written in "The Book," and showing polite toleration for those younger people who didn't know the "Word." The result is he actually discouraged honest study and created a cynical attitude among some people towards Marxism-Leninism, which became identified with his clichés. Not all those who have studied Marxism behave in this way, of course; some can give and have given valuable assistance to our younger members.

The main obstacle to overcome in organizing the study of Marxism-Leninism is the lazy and basically contemptuous attitude towards study--all study-- which is one of the few things most of us learned in high school or college. "What will it get me?" is the unexpressed question behind most members' resistance to study. One way to deal with this problem might be to start handing out cash prizes to those who read the most pages per hour. If we run out of cash, we could offer free goulash. But perhaps we can find a better way.

Numerous good techniques are available to "enliven" the study of Marxism, and nothing's wrong--everything's right--with trying to make study as provocative and lively as possible. Such creative forms as special schools, films and debates can and should be used. Classes or study groups can he organized in which each student writes an essay on his experience in reading a particular Marxist-Leninist work, his reactions, his understanding, his questions. The subject of how to study Marxism-Leninism merits a separate article; it should deal with, among other things, our positive and negative experiences, including cadre schools.

Whatever methods are added, there is no substitute for reading basic Marxist-Leninist works including the writings of Mao Tse-tung. Here, our members should give special emphasis to studying contradictions, the kernel of change, and understanding the two aspects-- emerging and declining--of every phenomenon, and the struggle between them.


The encyclopedia of errors committed by well-intentioned students of Marxism who mechanically tried to apply strategy and tactics based solely on experiences of revolutionaries in other countries fills many volumes. Mao Tse-tung writes again and again of the need to study "living ideas," real-life conditions in each country. In the U.S. we have an advantage because the ruling class has already organized a vast research network and publishes endless statistics, many of which are extremely valuable. These must be studied systematically. Of course, no government statistics should be accepted blindly.

In any case, no book research, no matter how thorough, can be useful unless it's combined with study through-experience, examining conditions with our own eyes. This means living with the people, workers, students, farmers, and everyone we want to influence. We must be a part of the people, not just at meetings but on the job, on the campus, and on the farm. If we don't live with the people we can't learn from the people. And if we can't learn from the people we can't teach anybody.

We should try to study one or two typical samples of a phenomenon and then generalize from them. For example, if we want to learn how big cities in our country operate, we might pick Baltimore and Denver, or any two we think are typical, and study their economies, their politics, the racketeers who run the local business interests, their connections to the national syndicates and big political bosses, monopoly interests, composition of working class, main immediate problems, wage scales, unemployment, etc., and then see if we can draw general conclusions about all or most big cities, and how to conduct the revolutionary struggle there.

Of course, no one should use "study" as an excuse for inactivity. Our day-to-day political work must be a source of and a test for our studies, as well as the reason for which we study. Study without political work is like a menu without food.

The study of concrete conditions has two main aims: to know ourselves, our class and our allies and the contradictions within us; and to know the enemy and the enemy's contradictions. If this article serves any purpose, it may help us to understand ourselves a little better. However, we have been sorely lacking so far in thorough-going studies of the enemy. In his military writings, Mao Tse-tung says that in learning the laws of war "what has to be learned and known includes the state of affairs on the enemy side and that on our side, both of which should be regarded as the object of study." (Selected Military Writings, p. 86.) Whether during a relatively peaceful period, such as the present, or otherwise, what we are studying--or should be studying--are the laws of war, class war. Understanding and taking advantage of the contradictions in the enemy is essential if we intend to plan ahead.


In our short history, we have already lived through several struggles. We have made mistakes. That is not so important. The question is, have we learned from the mistakes? Do we summarize our experiences, good and bad, our work in the South or in ghetto communities for example, and attempt to draw lessons for future work? Do we analyze our publications? Sometimes we do. But not enough. Our Party must make time for regular and systematic evaluations. Otherwise, even Marxist-Leninist theory and a study of concrete conditions in our country will not help us win. Only practice can put our programs to the true test, only the reactions of the working people and intellectuals around us.
Summarize our experience, evaluate, draw lessons, make new plans, carry them out, summarize, evaluate: on and on. But when we say summarize our experience this must be mainly experience among non-Party working people. And here we cannot be like that fat-headed politician whose only contact with the masses is looking down from a platform at a street corner meeting.

It's worth repeating several times: every Party member must have close friends outside the Party. And if a person is a friend, naturally we will share ideas on what is important to us, politics as well as baseball. Without this base at the job, the school, in the community or on the farm, no meaningful evaluation of our policies is possible. The "mass line" is the basis of effective planning. We must consciously plan to plan. We must assign ourselves time to summarize and evaluate. If the day-today rush of "business" appears too hectic to permit such meetings, then certain leading members or bodies should take a period of time together away from the big city's hustle-bustle in some area where they can spend as long as necessary--even up to a week or two or three --to summarize, evaluate, study and draw up new plans. The Party's daily functioning can continue for a while without the physical presence of these individuals (it will even give some of the newer people valuable experience in self-reliance), but the Party's long-range functioning will flounder without such sessions from time to time.

In planning, the leadership should pay careful attention to individual assignments. However, planning can not be seen as the responsibility of the leadership alone, any more than thinking. Every member should give careful thought to the Party's perspectives, take part in summarizing and evaluating experiences, and insist on a thorough understanding of his own assignment. No member should wake up in the morning and wonder what he's going to do that day. Every member should have a daily plan, which in turn is part of a weekly and monthly and one-year and five-year and ten-year perspective; each individual plan should be part of a club plan and the club plan part of an overall Party strategy.

Here it should be useful to organize the perspective by stages, setting clear-cut minimum goals for each stage, and devoting most attention to what is determined to be the major objective of each stage. For example, if the objective of one stage is to build a base in a community, we should analyze the neighborhood forces, their relative strength, stability and class outlook, then set some simple concrete goals for working with the forces we seek to develop.

Naturally, we can't make a blueprint for every minute of the day or predict exactly what will happen in the next ten weeks, let alone ten years. Our plans must be realistic and flexible. More important, we must be flexible in carrying them out, changing them when necessary, adapting to new situations, raising questions and proposing new plans. Above all, we must never plan away our boldness and enthusiasm; we must never reject initiative because "it's not in the plan." On the contrary, we must always have the initiative, launch new projects, and stay one jump (at least one) ahead of the ruling class. But none of this negates the need for planning. Revolutions don't appear magically any more than skyscrapers do.


Some members reading this may complain that the points raised, while not completely worthless, are inappropriate at best and perhaps even harmful. They may raise a number of objections.

First, they may say, this is not the time to get so introspective, to turn so much of our attention inward. We've made great strides recently; the tide of struggle is rising; the class war is sharpening; the people are on the move. If we devote all of our attention to ourselves, we will miss the boat.

The last point is obviously true. But no one proposes that we devote all our attention to ourselves--or even most of it. This is not basically a plea for more time, for a new quantity of agenda--space to be spent on self-improvement, although that should be one result. It is an argument for more consciousness, for a new quality of understanding of ourselves in order to improve our work. And it is precisely because we are currently moving forward that we must worry about our weaknesses. When we suffer defeats and failures, everyone will be sitting soberly with head in hands trying to figure out what went wrong and what to do next. That will be the time to emphasize our strengths, to fight against pessimism and defeatism. But now, when we are "rolling along," we may tend to overlook or minimize serious weaknesses, to overestimate our strength and underestimate the enemy. Everybody knows what happened to the hare in his race with the tortoise.

Let no one underestimate the effects of bourgeois ideology. What may begin with a few private dachas in a Moscow suburb very quickly becomes the restoration of Russian capitalism, complete with unemployment and official anti-semitism. Who would have imagined that the land of Lenin would one day let itself be represented by slick vodka ads in Madison Avenue magazines paraphrasing Ian Fleming's CIA story with the slogan "From Russia With Ice"? In the same way, Gus Hall's private Westchester dacha is part and parcel of the whole shameful policy under which a once-communist party mobilizes its feeble forces to help elect the most blatantly reactionary President in U.S. history.

If bourgeois ideology is permitted to get a foothold, if it is not constantly opposed in our ranks, it can spread as quickly as cancer with just as deadly results. Of course, we must keep struggling on the front lines of demonstrations, strikes, and mass movements, but we must keep improving ourselves, too.

Second, some will say these remarks are too negative. If we have all those faults we ought to give up! Here, there is a real weakness in this article. It doesn't deal with all the positive qualities which our membership and our leadership possess. It doesn't detail all the tremendous gains we have made in the past few years, and especially since the founding of our Party. By leaving those things out, it presents a one-sided picture, or it would present such a picture to those who don't know the whole story.

All right, the article is guilty of one-sidedness. But if we recognize that--and we who know the full story of our Party's development surely we don't need to read self-praise to know that we have done fairly well--then we can approach the questions raised here with a constructive attitude. It is patently ridiculous to say that if 'we have all those faults we ought to give up.' If we have those faults and we don't try to overcome them then we ought to give up. In other words, if we give up we ought to give up.

Third, some will argue that all this may be true, but there is a war on and a danger of a much bigger war at any moment. It's a crisis! An emergency! When bombs are dropping is hardly the moment to consider bourgeois individualism! If bombs are exploding around you as you are reading this, please be sure you have good shelter before going any further.

If bombs are not exploding where you are then surely it can't be much of an unusual crisis. Even where U.S. bombs have been dropping every day for years--in Vietnam--the people don't stop their work, their studying, their discussions, their criticism, or their evaluations. That is one of their great strengths.

Our organization has been in a state of crisis every day of every week of its short life. And if we are true to our revolutionary principles we should expect crisis upon crisis for the rest of our lives. By that standard, we would never get to consider bourgeois individualism. This argument is precisely the kind of lack of planning referred to above.

Actually, the sharper the crisis the better from one point of view. People are forced to face their weakness in time of emergency. Some, the weakest, will retreat from the revolution, a few will betray it. Many who have managed to conceal or ignore their inner doubts and fears will be forced to grapple with them, and some will overcome them. For those, strikes, arrests, battles, wars add steel to the makeup. There is no room for revisionism at such moments. There are only two sides and it is life or death; when you come out to fight you leave your goulash behind. The essence of the class struggle emerges to the surface.

In such a situation, the conditions of battle will do more than this or a dozen better written pieces could ever do to improve the quality of the work of those who survive. Nonetheless, if we don't prepare before the battle, most won't survive. It's as simple as that.


By this time, not so many people as a few years ago feel the revolutionary struggle in the U.S. is hopeless. Our people have begun to show their potential. Our Party has never doubted that we can succeed. But it won't be easy. Those who think it's a snap are going to wake up one day and find themselves snapped flat on their backs We are fighting a rich and powerful enemy; this enemy is not going to permit a peaceful change; this enemy cannot win in the long run, but it can kill a lot of people in the meantime. We cannot succeed alone. We must join forces with every possible ally among the working people, black and white, students and intellectuals, farmers, and small businessmen--in other words, the overwhelming majority of our population. This cannot be done overnight, but this must be our goal. It is a necessary prerequisite for revolution. This means united fronts, united work, alliances both temporary and long range, using the contradictions in the ruling class, distinguishing the main enemy from secondary enemies, and concentrating all forces possible against that enemy. means we must utilize many organizational forms for mass action. In a ghetto area, for example in addition to a PLP club, we might have a Tenants' Union, a part-time nursery school run by a committee of mothers and older sisters, cultural workshops, a health and welfare action committee, a youth defense league, etc. This in no way means that we abandon our independent communist position, our ideological leadership of the revolutionary movement. Everything in this article presupposes the continuing of our basic line, our socialist education and our open advocacy of socialist revolution as the only solution to the problems which plague our people. We are simply saying that to win we must eventually find ways to unite the above-mentioned potentially progressive elements behind the working class. At the same time, to succeed we must ally ourselves with the world revolutionary forces, especially in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Even with this, we won't succeed automatically. Better than the question "Can we succeed?" would be "Do we dare to succeed?" Do we really want to make a revolution? Are we willing to go all the way? That question underlies all the other points in this piece.

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