Build a Revolutionary Political Base
If our party is to continue to make slow but steady progress there are several things we must curb and eventually defeat. Sectarianism, the main way revisionism appears in our party, is the main weakness in our party today. This is reflected in the low level of basebuilding in all of our work, in each area. We must say self-critically that we could have done much better these past few years than we have done. We could not have become a mass party, nor could we have become decisive in any area of work. We could be bigger and with more influence than we now have. A careful examination of almost every member of the party will show that he has a limited political base and is not doing a hell of a lot to change this situation. How can you serve the people if you have no relationship, or extremely limited relationships, with them? Under these circumstances, membership in the party is primarily a selfish act, and while that may be a valid point of departure it isn't good enough if we are talking about defeating U.S. imperialism. Selfishness, or a "what's in it for me" attitude, is the essence of revisionism. Lack of a base can sometimes be dismissed as mere ineptness. More often, it manifests an ideological deviation. Unwarranted isolation is diametrically opposed to class consciousness, Class consciousness has nothing to do with how well you can vocalize Marxist-Leninist propositions. It has everything to do with your relations to people, and how they can eventually be moved into battle against the class enemy.
At each step of the way we must evaluate our commitment to building the party and serving the people. Our fulfillment as individuals can best be accomplished to the degree we make the party the central thing in our life. Sectarianism can best be described as fear of the people, or lack of confidence in the people. Since we aspire to be a working class party, lack of ties, no matter in which area you work, means a lack of confidence in the working class. And, while you may verbally oppose all the middle-class notions in other groups or periodicals you essentially share their outlook. Moreover, we do not want our members to view their participation in the party as a "sacrifice." Being in the party is a great opportunity to do something useful with your life. It can give you an unprecedented opportunity to serve the people. If you view your activities as an infringement on your personal prerogatives--hence a sacrifice--you are still completely under the influence of the enemy. You are not making very much progress. Your progress can best be measured in terms of your relationships with other people, especially non-party people. To overcome individualism and to achieve collectivity means defeating narrow selfish motives. For most of us developing relations with the people is an effort. Bourgeois ideology trains us to be loners, cynical of everyone else, particularly with people who do not fall over to agree with us.
If we want to overcome narrow "craft" interests in the various areas in which we work, if we want to win people to think in terms of how their actions should be designed in order to aid the entire class, then obviously we must train ourselves to view all of our actions from the point of view: "Is it helping the party to build and grow?" If we cannot do that, then we will be unable to win the masses to our line. When we go among the people and tell them we are communists they usually take us at our word. They evaluate us far differently than they evaluate other people. After all, we give them new yardsticks for judgment. If you claim you are for all the good things, but in your actions are not, the people will see this. This will compound their cynicism and reduce their desire for change. To the people you will simply be another guy who talks big and acts small. Workers have plenty of experience with this phenomenon in the unions. Many students and intellectuals are already using this yardstick to evaluate various bourgeois institutions.
We have a great responsibility to overcome our shortcomings and win a commitment to long, protracted revolution. In the past we tended to leave the matter of evaluation of one another to ourselves in the party. We have partially developed self-criticism and criticism. But even if we developed it fully within the party this would still give us an insular view of one another. In the coming period we should encourage people whom we know personally or work with politically and know personally to give their impressions of us as communists. We should train ourselves that being in the party means loyalty to the people. We should train ourselves to encourage the people's participation in our development. This would also tend to prevent the party from becoming a club. The party would be better oriented to improve its work and the work of its members if we had more insight into what non-party forces thought of us. We should encourage this no matter what the "risks" !
In our quest to build bases we should take a closer look at one another. We should start from the ground up. Like, "who do you know?" "What is the nature of the relationship?" In doing this we should take a broader view of what constitutes a political base. Many of us come from campus activity where the action is usually hot and heavy, and personal living is less than stable. We think in terms of knowing people solely on an action basis. However, if you live in a community or work in a shop you build your relations based on a long range commitment to the shop or neighborhood. The pace of struggle now may not have the intensity of campus struggle. While we should certainly try to know and work with those who are active, it is important to have many relations in the shop or community with people who may not be active at all now. It is impossible to predict who will rise to the fore in the long run. It is valuable to have relations with people of a "purely" personal character. The fact that people like you on a personal basis, knowing you are a communist, is important to you and them. Even if they do not agree with you politically, their relationship with you will often lead them to defending your right to function. This can often lead to enhancing your ability to function in any area.
At a later date, under different circumstances, experience with you and confidence in you could lead to a transformation in someone you thought to be passive. Having a wide circle of relations gives the party more maneuverability. Your relations with people should lead to enlightenment for them. As a communist you should impart confidence in the eventual overcoming of this society, which destroys the fabric of life. You can help people change, just as they help you change. Don't forget, we are not building a narrow minority movement. We are opposed to an elitist concept of historical change. Eventually we hope to involve tens of millions in sharp struggle. Where are they to come from? They are not about to fall from the sky. They are going to be those who at the moment don't often seem interested in changing society. But we say that sooner or later objective processes will sharpen the contradictions between most working people and the system. Then whom will the people work with and trust? Those whom they know and have confidence in.
What are we doing today to make trust in us a reality tomorrow? Are we becoming "tribunes of the people"? In other words, do we participate in all the seemingly endless struggles the people go through until their consciousness is more fully developed? Do people see us as totally interested in the affairs of the people? Are we respected, if not necessarily agreed with? Can anyone in our shop, school, or community come over to us in complete confidence on any matter, knowing that he will be listened to and helped? Do workers say about us, "I don t agree with that guy, but you got to respect him because he always tries to help. Maybe I better pay attention to his ideas."
We have brought into the American scene way beyond our ranks the idea that if you want to make a revolution in this country, then you had better win the working class politically. And we know that during the last few years, we have carried on political battles to win people to this idea, because this idea was generally alien, certainly in our student and intellectual movement. And the working class itself, because it has little or no political consciousness, and doesn't necessarily conceive of itself as that class which will be the key, the instrumental class, in bringing about revolutionary socialism in our country. This is one of our biggest contributions in our country, and this is something we have to pursue with a lot more vigor and skill than we have. That is to say, to make the PLP a party of the working class and win other sectors of the population to understand that it is on the shoulders of the working class that socialism will triumph in the United States. We made a little start in this direction but we have to go much further.
Certainly anybody reading about the political situation in France can see this proposition a lot more clearly. That is to say, a lot of people can start the revolutionary process. But it is only the workers, in the modern industrial countries, that are going to finish it. When we were kids we used to say "Before you start something, you better see who's going to finish it." If we want to start a revolutionary movement we'd better have a clear idea of how it is going to get finished, upon whose shoulders it is going to be finished.
France certainly refutes the notion, which has been spread around by all sorts of forces that the working class in capitalist countries is so hopelessly corrupt that it is not going to make the revolution, and revolution can only come in the more oppressed sections of the world, and therefore, our task is simply to somehow or other assist these colonial revolutionary movements. They say we should write off our own working class. This is, of course, one of the biggest victories the international bourgeoisie can accomplish. Nothing would make them happier. Well, I wouldn't say nothing; it would make them very happy if the workers in all the capitalist countries would just stay put, so they would only have to fight colonial workers. Then they wouldn't have to fight on both fronts.
But if France were repeated in our own country, we might ask ourselves what we'd be doing. Certainly you can see the enormous value such an event would have for the revolutionary forces in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If the American bourgeoisie was so hemmed in by its own working class here that it could not deal effectively with the oppressed outside its boundaries, and would be forced to weaken the struggle against them, or perhaps even let go. This for all intents and purposes would be the beginning of the end, or the end, for imperialism. So when we talk about being a party of the working class and introducing Marxism-Leninism, the ideology of the dictatorship of the proletariat, into the ranks of the working class and into the people's movements generally, we are talking about big stakes. And it is not just an abstraction.
You know, some say, "Would you believe that the Progressive Labor Party is going to lead the revolution? Would you believe that?" Everybody would say to himself, "That's pretty funny." Well, it's all right to have a sense of humor about things and to take things in stride but we better understand that that's what we are trying to do! We are trying to destroy the system and we are trying to bring revolutionary ideology into the working class and our outlook is that we can succeed. We can do this because the system that we are fighting cannot satisfy the working class and the people generally, and Marxism-Leninism can help workers achieve a new system. They come into sharp contradiction with the system. We have to have the will, the guts, or whatever you want to call it, to bring our revolutionary ideas into all of these struggles. We should take this perspective very seriously, and we should think from the point of view that "We can do it; it can be done." Not from the point of view of pompousness, but from a point of view of being serious about what we are doing, of seeing that the opportunities are there, and that whether or not we succeed rests on us, not on the enemy, but on us. It's no use crying over spilled milk, like others have done: "We failed because they beat us." "We failed because they were too strong." "We failed because of whatever the enemy did." No! The enemy can do his thing. He does it all the time, to all revolutionaries. He tries to crush and defeat them.
Revolutions fail and revolutionaries don't succeed in carrying forward the revolutionary process mainly because of their own shortcomings, primarily because of their own limitations. If this weren't true there would be no point in starting. There would be no point in organizing to smash the system. Because superficially the system appears much stronger than the revolutionary forces; so, if you are taken in by appearances, you will give up the ghost. Unfortunately, too many of us are still taken in by appearances, although going through the motions of playing revolutionary. After all, it's interesting. It keeps us off the streets. It gives us something to do. It gives some purpose to our lives, it makes us feel noble and that sort of thing. But in our guts all of us question whether it can be done or whether we can do it. As I said, we'd better take the approach that it can be done, that we are going to do it, and that the only one who can defeat us is ourselves. Nobody is to blame but ourselves.
One of our main tasks since our inception has been to bring about this transformation in the party and in ourselves, to become serious revolutionaries and to actively play a certain kind of role. One of our main perspectives, one of our key tasks, has been to develop a core of people who would be considered professional revolutionaries in the traditional sense. That is, to serve the revolution and the party and the people comes first, that is the primary thing in their life. Because no serious revolutionary party can exist and be successful, without serious revolutionaries, without a cadre, without a leadership. During the last three years, I think small steps have been taken along this road. That is to say, there is a number of such people in a growing core in our party, represented broadly by the people at this convention. By and large, this growing core of cadres slowly but surely is making this revolutionary outlook the primary thing in their lives, is trying to defeat the "I" mentality and develop the "We" mentality. This convention is a reflection of this process.
Now are we developing cadre as an abstraction so as to be able to say we have 60 or 100 or 120 or whatever the number is of people who are dedicated? That's nice of course. But what is the purpose? The essential purpose is to bring leadership into the party, to develop revolutionary leadership among the people. There is the tendency in America, and probably in all countries to some degree, to say, "What do you have to be a leader for?" Somehow or another, movements can succeed without leaders. The ability of movements to succeed is based on two things. It is based on the objective circumstances, but also on the subjective circumstances. It's the interrelationship of these two that determines the outcome of the movement. For example, to refer back to France, there perhaps we could say a revolutionary situation existed objectively. But was there revolutionary leadership? There may be revolutionaries, but is there a leadership in the sense that it has that political relationship with the masses that they can take advantage of this objective situation, and consummate that revolution?
What is the role of leadership in the Soviet Union? In Indonesia? What is the role of leadership in every area where the revolutionary movement is moving ahead or retrogressing? Very important. Decisive. Just as the objective situation is decisive. We could all go into the street and cry "Rise up, fellow citizens. Let's seize City Hall." And unless that has some objective basis in reality, people will throw ash cans at us, or laugh at us. I'm not putting forward a superman view of history. I'm simply putting forward what I believe is one of the most important elements of revolutionary ideology, of Marxism-Leninism: the need of the people to have revolutionary leadership. If we think in terms of playing a role among the people and within the party, and in terms of leading the people in struggle, then we better now view it seriously. View it from the point of view that we are undertaking a tremendous responsibility.
What we are trying to do is to develop revolutionary leadership among the masses and win the majority of the working class and other sections of the population to political consciousness, to Marxism-Leninism. This requires, of course, many attributes but it requires, above all, serious devotion, dedication and confidence in the working people. It requires the ability--politically, ideologically and tactically--to develop ties with the working class and with the people which are tight, which cannot be broken by the enemy. Then the revolutionary process develops, and as the people become more conscious, we are able to guide this revolution to its consummation, which is the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, these years of patient, slow winning and training people and developing ties among the masses, no matter how protracted they may seem, no matter how slow they may seem, are vital. They are vital to developing a revolutionary party and a revolutionary leadership among the people.
Now within the party there are many obstacles to developing revolutionary leadership. What we are dealing with to a great extent is a petit bourgeois ideology, the ideology of the enemy within our own ranks. It manifests itself in many ways. And we know that if we are going to move ahead that we have to fight this ideology even more vigorously than we have till now. Some people say with a certain amount of justification, "Well, if we do that we'll lose people." That is to say, if you really make Joe work in that shop, and he wants to do something else, and you insist, he'll quit. He might. We will see that in every stage of the game, as we develop.
Whenever the party felt it was ready for the next big step, there was always a certain amount of dropping away from the party. This happened even when we formed the party out of the Progressive Labor Movement which was a serious step, because we felt there was enough unity of ideas to form the Progressive Labor Party. This was a serious step because now you are telling the enemy in a sharper way, and you're telling one another in a sharper way, "Look, we are intensifying the struggle." At our first conference a number of people got up, and challenged this idea of a party, raised a lot of ideas to show why it was wrong. And when we went ahead and formed the party, they dropped away. On the face of it, there was no particular reason for them to drop away over our forming the party or not forming the party. They all said they agreed with us on all the main points like dictatorship of the proletariat. They all said they were not defending imperialism, or most of them did. They all said a lot of the right things. But when the party was formed, these people recognized that was a step forward, a sharpening of the struggle and they fell away.
Now, sure, we don't say "That's wonderful, we're losing all our members! " We are trying to win these people. We try and make a fight for these people. But nonetheless this process does go on. When we came out with Road to Revolution there was a struggle in the movement. Because what was Road to Revolution? That was the opening, the public declaration of struggle against revisionism. A lot of people said "You can't do that" When the arguments were raised none of these guys said they were against the dictatorship of the proletariat. None of those guys said they were for the war in Vietnam. They didn't say anything on the surface so terrible. They recognized that Road to Revolution was a sharpening of the struggle against revisionism and imperialism. Some of them dropped away.
When we came out with Road to Revolution II and we tackled revisionism even more sharply, other people dropped away. None of them were raising what appeared to be primary differences. Nobody said that the party was founded on the wrong premise, that we weren't based in the working class. Nobody argued that. They were all for that. But they dropped away. When we start the process within the party of "Look, we have to have more discipline based on collectivity and people have to become more accountable to the party," certain people fall away because the screw is getting turned a little more tightly.
It's not simply a subjective thing. It's not that we decided, "Lets turn the screw and see who we can get rid of this week." It's that our political estimate is that the class struggle is growing sharper, and that in order to just keep abreast of the class struggle we have to do better. I don't believe we are even keeping abreast of the class struggle. I think to some extent, we're lagging behind.
Now, we make our estimate based on our understanding of the international situation of imperialism, based on its growing limitations, based on the growing sweep of revolutionary struggle. The class struggle in our country will grow sharper. We said that several years ago. People laughed in our faces. "Oh, those workers won't even go on strike." "They won't do this, they won't do that." "The students are all rotten." "Black people are all lumpen proletariat." So on and so forth. We didn't come to our estimate out of the blue. We came to it based on a somewhat scientific estimate of the objective situation of imperialism. Our estimate has been proven, by and large, correct. The class struggle has grown sharper, outside the country and within the country. One of the recent articles in PL Magazine on imperialism tries to give a careful economic evaluation of the falling rate of profit as a barometer of the maneuverability of imperialism. If you say the rate of profit is falling, then you are also saying the imperialists' ability to maneuver is growing less and less, and this forces them more and more to attack and tighten up on their own workers, and oppress workers all over the world. We think this is the situation we're in, and we think that the coming period will continue to see the sharpening of the class struggle, continue to see the sharpening of struggles in our own country.
That is the sweep of it. We don't have precise blueprints, but we see that pattern. It will be protracted, the revolution will take time, and it will not succeed unless there's a serious revolutionary party in the field, a party that has a fundamental relationship with the key sections of the misses No gimmick, no sleight of hand, no cute trick is going to pull it off, although in America the gimmick and the sleight of hand is part of the culture. But we are not working with this culture. We are working with a Marxist-Leninist outlook. The revolutionary process is protracted. It's always been protracted, it always will be protracted, and it continues even after the seizure of power.
Lack of confidence in the working class, lack of confidence in the party, lack of confidence in Marxism-Leninism, is manifested often in a very individualistic attitude towards what one does. A lot of people say, "I'm going to do what I want to, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it, and I really don't give a damn what you people think." That comes out in a million and one ways. If all of us were to think about ourselves a little bit, and think about most people in the party a little bit, I think you will agree that attitude is still fairly prevalent.
People do this work for a year or two, young guys or even older people. It doesn't matter that much actually. I don't think age is any indication of patience, stability or understanding. It's hard. Things don't move the way you want. The revolution isn't around the corner. You could be doing this for a long time. You don't think of it just that way, but somehow in the back of your mind is the idea "I can be a lawyer, I could be a doctor; maybe my mother was right. I'll give this thing a whirl for another year, and I'll get a theory. I'll come up with some big theory that will speed the whole thing up and get it all over within a year or two. I'll get a theory to go with it. I'll get some guru or somebody who'll come up with some new 'Marxist-Leninist' theory and a bag plan." We've all heard this. It's just another way of creeping out. When ideological differences arise within the party (which is not a bad thing, which is a good thing) we have to be very objective and determine what is the reason for the difference. Is it a serious attempt to influence the movement, or is it merely giving vent to a great deal of individualism?
Now, you want to give leadership to the party, and you want to give leadership to the masses (that's what we're talking about). How are you going to do it, when a good deal of your ideological thinking is based on individualism? "Me, me! My mother told me I was the smartest guy alive, and she was right! I am! Nobody could tell me I'm wrong, because I know everything. No one else in the party knows anything. They don't understand." It may be that the party is wrong, and individuals are right. That has happened before. It's happened in this party. It's going to happen again. The party will make mistakes, an individual or a couple of individuals in the party will say, "Look, the party's making an error" and you know, it won't be understood, it won't be accepted. You have to take a serious attitude to that kind of struggle. You have to take a protracted attitude to that kind of struggle unless you feel that the party renounced the fundamental ideas for which you joined it. If that's the case, then I would say, "Why wait? Split, that's right." But if its a tactical or even a strategic difference, you have to take a protracted attitude in dealing with that. There's always a possibility you may be wrong, and maybe the collective was right. And even if you are right, if you have any confidence in the collective, well, somehow or other they'll get enough wisdom to understand how smart you were, to see maybe you were right. People change.
We have made many changes in the party; and have had many changes in our line and in many of our strategies and tactics. Unfortunately, in many cases it's taken us too long to make changes. But, nonetheless, there have been changes. We have to take a protracted attitude, to fight in a sharp, but principled way, from the point of view of really building the party. If you really want to build the party when you have a difference with it, you have to think about that because it's not so simple. That's a very difficult contradiction. But the way to solve it is not to break up the party, not to try to make the party become the main enemy, and not to beat the party. Because that's a very bourgeois attitude.
Well, we have a lot of that in the party. That's bourgeois arrogance, individualism, thinking of yourself over the needs of the party and the people. Sooner or later this brings you into contradiction with the people. If you're working, as all of us are trying to, among the people, you can't be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Your attitudes will appear in your work among the people. You can't be the bad guy in the party and the good guy among the masses. Maybe for a little while you will be on your best behavior among the masses: you will put on a little better show. You will cover it up a little bit because you have a certain kind of political consciousness. You can keep. a poker face and cover it up a little bit. "Oh, he's a nice guy. But we won't work collectively with the masses, because after all, we know everything. What do these dumb people know? All we have to do is tell them. And if they don't do what I want, they're stupid."
That's how seemingly good people become enemies of the working class. They don't sit down and will it, they don't sit down and say "I'm going to screw the workers, I'm going to screw the party; now I'm going to do it." They are usually seemingly good guys who want to do a good thing, who do what they think is right. But really they are not working collectively. They don't give a damn about anybody but themselves. They have an ax to grind, and they are going to grind it.
We can't take a superficial view of the development of the party. It would be a big mistake. We must dig deeper. We can take nobody for granted. We must take everybody into consideration, and work with one another very closely and collectively to help one another overcome individualism, and to progress in the work.
Now, I think that one of the biggest weaknesses in the development of the international movement, and it certainly manifests itself in our own movement, is the failure to develop criticism and self-criticism. Without the process of criticism and self-criticism there is no scientific way that the party can correct itself, no way at all. Without it we are robbed of the real ability to correct ourselves. Inevitably if self criticism isn't elevated we will sink into the wrong ideology. We'll develop the wrong ideas, because there will be nothing in operation to fight the wrong ideas.
I think that we have to think about this a little more. For example, in almost all the papers written for the convention discussion, how many were self-critical? Who wrote any that said, "I have been trying this work, and I screwed up. And I am not doing what I could have." That at least would be an attempt, weak as it is, to set a self-critical tone. One comrade wrote a list of criticisms of the party. And this comrade, before he got into the criticism, wrote two sentences of self-criticism, but he crossed it out. Crossed it out! Could not bear that everybody in the party should read something of a self-critical character! And yet the whole paper was a critique of the party's line! All crossed out. At first I thought I'd be nasty and just have it photographed, just like that. But fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) Wally saw it and, I don't know why, he thought I crossed it out, so when he pasted it up, he took it out.
Now, that's a little bit of a phenomenon, that not one member of the party, (I might be wrong, maybe there was one) but most members-almost nobody had anything self-critical to say. There was some criticism, which is good. But that's only one aspect of criticism and self-criticism. Self-criticism is very important, because if we don't evaluate ourselves it's very hard for others to get a handle on some of the real shortcomings that we may have. Of course it's easier to "self-criticize" somebody else than to be self-critical of oneself. That's another way of showing that we still consider ourselves to be primary and the party and the people to be secondary.
Now many times people say, "Well, I'm all for that. That's all true. What can we do to change? What can be done to change?" Well, there's no panacea. I think in the first place one has to be aware of this problem. Self-criticism is still the primary thing. One has to have some evaluation of oneself and the people one is working with, and deal with shortcomings self-critically and critically. But after having said that, then of course there are certain procedural things that have political content which can help people change. One of them is check-up. When someone is asked to do something, and he agrees to do it, there should be careful examination to find out whether it is being done. How well is it being done? Examine it. Evaluate it. What was done? What was the person's perspective? Does he have a perspective? What did this thing have to do with the person's perspective? In this way we have some way of evaluating a person's political role. It isn't a mystically psychological procedure with somebody hitting himself saying, "Well, I'm this and I'm that, I'm a bad fellow," and everybody answering, "That's true." No! There is a process by which we help the individual member to make positive changes.
This has to be a constant thing. So that when we are engaged in activity, even in the heat of a battle so to speak, we have to find the time to examine what it is we are doing. Somebody says, 'Ugh, we'll do it later, when it's all over.' Yeah--when we're all dead, we'll examine it. When it's all over, then we'll do it. "I have no time. I have a million meetings. I got to meet this one. I've got to see that one. I'm all tied up." All tied up! Can't stop for a minute to think about what it is we are doing. Can't stop for a minute. Got minutes for everything else, got minutes to write criticism, got minutes for this and minutes for that ain't got five minutes to sit down and ask "What are we doing?"
I have seen it happen in strikes. We had it here in New York in a welfare strike, where our club in the Welfare department was in the middle of a strike. The club hadn't met. The left-wing caucus that they were working with hadn't met. Too busy. I asked why hadn't the club met. "We're too busy." Well what the hell do we need a party for? What do we need a party for? What is the collective process of the party? The left-wing caucus that they were working with hadn't met.
The students at Columbia are tearing up the pea patch. SDS is the organization leading it. The SDS has not met, we haven't gotten it to meet yet. Our people are active members in it. What is the collective? "I went up to Columbia. I went up to the front lines. I showed my face." Yeah that will help a lot at Columbia. You know, individualism. How does one distinguish himself in struggle? He's a hero. That's America. That's how you distinguish yourself in the struggle. You're a hero. Somebody gives you a medal, and when you come back "Boy were you brave. The cops hit you 18 times. Were you brave! " Big bravery. I think we should be brave. I'm not denigrating bravery. But by guts alone you won't do it. You have got to have brains, you've got to think. You've got to work together. You've got to evaluate, and in the middle of a struggle you've got to do it. In the middle of a struggle.
I once read a book about the Chinese Army written by a bourgeois general, and he described how in the middle of a battle they managed to hold meetings. Now they won. So you can't knock that. That's very interesting. How do you hold meetings in the middle of a battle? They figured it out. They worked it out. Guys were having meetings in foxholes. "What should we do now? Let's think it over." Almost ludicrous when I read it. I said to myself, "What a jerk you are, Milt. These guys know that this is part of how we overcome this individualism by working together collectively within the party and with the people we're working with politically outside the party."
Of course, if you've got nobody to work with politically outside the party, you're in trouble. You've got no relationship to the masses, there's no process. The main door is closed. You don't know anybody, that's a problem. And there are still many of us who, by and large, really don't have relationships with the masses that are meaningful. We say hello to the neighbors, but we don't really know them. And I think to a great extent that is the case with many people yet. Relationships are too superficial. We don't know people well. They don't really tell us too much. You know what I think we should do? We should ask people, "What do you think of me? How do you think I am working? What do you think of the role of my party in this situation now?"
It doesn't mean that everything that somebody says, whether he is in the party or outside the party, is correct. But it's interesting to hear what people have to say. You might learn something. That process might help toughen one's skin and make one stop and think. We have-to think about this question of criticism and self-criticism, and not do it abstractly, but to do it in the process of work. Do it in relationship to what it is we're supposed to be doing, what we voluntarily agreed to do, and what everybody else expects us to do. Otherwise, where's the responsibility to one another? None!
We have the responsibility to bring forth the right line in every area. That's leadership. You bring forth the right line no matter how difficult it may be in the short run. That's leadership. Who ever said it was easy to fight for the right line? Who said it is easy? Do you think it's easy? No. That work is hard. It's not easy. It's hard. That's what it is all about. The name of the game is "hard." Not easy. And that's right, most people at this point are not going to agree with us. If they would we'd have to have Madison Square Garden to hold the convention. That was always true with every revolutionary movement. You have to start small and then slowly but surely, with a very sharp upright struggle, get among the people and fight for your ideas.
But the way to win acceptance for your ideas is not by abandoning them. The way for your ideas to win is not by creating illusions among the masses, and helping the ruling class make phony leaders among the masses. Unfortunately, enough phony leaders are already imposed on the masses. Why do we have to make new ones, Doctor Spock or LeRoi Jones, or Mr. Carmichael? What do we need it for? How's it gonna help? Bad enough we got Walter Reuther and George Meany and a host of others who already have leadership in the labor movement. We don't have to help them make new ones.
So part of our job is to struggle against these things. Very often it's unpopular. Very often its very hard to struggle against these things. Very often the people we like the most, the very person we want to win, doesn't like us and will attack it. And will say "I don't want anything to do with you because you're attacking Dr. Spock. And you' re a son of a bitch for doing it. You got a lot of nerve saying that." A lot of people got very angry with me because we took a critical position on King when he was assassinated. "How can you say that? He was such a nice man." Well I'm not saying we should not take into account people's sensibilities or sensitivities but you can't square it by changing the line. You can't square it by retreating from a class position, from a politically conscious position. You can't do it.
You can't resolve the problem of errors in the work by making a bigger error. That's to say in our work in industry, of course there's a danger of economism. Of course there's a danger of right opportunism. You work in this atmosphere, under the nose of the company, under the nose of the state, under the nose of the trade union bureaucrat with the illusions that the workers have, you're more likely than not to make opportunistic errors. How do you cure it? By making a correct political fight. Not by coming out with bigger and better economism. That's not going to solve the problem. Economism is going to be resolved by bringing political consciousness into the labor movement and into the people's movements.
The question of state power. That's not an abstraction. It only becomes an abstraction to us because it is hard. So it seems that it's not relevant to what we're doing. But in the course of struggle the question of state power always becomes relevant. Do you know of one struggle in the country today where the question of state power and the dictatorship of the proletariat didn't come to be essential? At Columbia, on a strike, in the rebellions in the ghetto? Why? Because in every struggle in this country the state moves with all its force, either round about or directly in every struggle. That is the main lesson. What struggle has there been in this country where this isn't a main lesson? That is the lesson we have to pound home, and home, and home again.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that all these demands in France that we read in the New York Times today are the true limit of demands. Who in France today is raising the question of state power, from what we can see? Nobody. That's probably true. Some students and anarchists have taken over the factories. So, that's nothing new. That's syndicalism. That's the IWW. Get the factories. The workers, under the revisionists' leadership, want a bigger raise. There's nothing wrong with a bigger raise. They want the taxes reduced. Nothing wrong with the taxes reduced. They want all these things. That's fine. How are you going to get them? How are you going to resolve the problems of the French workers? By seizing state power! Who's going to seize state power? The workers and the students. Who's for seizing it? Probably nobody. Or probably a group, maybe like ourselves, which is so small, and so divided (because of objective or subjective circumstances) from the class struggle, that even if it raises it, it carries little weight. So even there where it almost appears like "here is state power right under your nose," where it looks like "all you have to do is reach out and take it"-- they are reaching for the wrong thing. They're trying to reach out and take the wrong thing. And yet, there it is.
Now I hope I'm wrong. I hope that what we read is wrong. Let's hope that there is a group in France, a political sect in France that has state power as its outlook, and can win the workers to snatch it. Fine. That's great. We'd love it. But in my opinion it's not likely, not at all. Here's the struggle in France. And now it comes down to what are your ties. It doesn't just happen, it's a process. Nobody in France has been advocating seizing state power. The revisionist party in France for the last 30 years has been saying popular front, this front, that front, Mitterand, Mendes-France front, every front but the right thing. And they educated the workers away from the idea of state power. So if you said to somebody in France 20 years ago, why don't you raise state power? "Oh. I'm for state power. but what does state power have to do with the price of tea in India? State power. Let's be practical. Let's reduce the taxes, get better wages, let's get parliamentary representatives elected." Well, you see, this is the background from which the rebellion in France broke out. After 20-30 years there's nobody for state power. And now because ten guys are getting up and saying state power, who's going to listen? What relationship do they have to the masses?
You don't win people just because you make an announcement. If we could then we could close shop now, wait until it happens here and when it happens I'll call you all up on the phone and say, "Here it is." It will take 10 years or 15 years or 20 or tomorrow. Whatever, I'll call you up and we will all go out. But of course people will all laugh in your face and say "Who's this nut? Where do you live? Where did they let you loose from?"
Sure, fighting for the right line seems like an abstraction. Yes, its irrelevant, because we don't see that our essential political task among workers is, yes, to get involved, to win them, to engage in a day-to-day struggle, and to introduce political ideas. Now, when we talk about political ideas we're mainly talking about winning state power.
How do we move the struggle from one level to another? Very often people can't see how to move. It's hard. People don't see what they can do to move the struggle from one level to another. Sell magazines and our other literature, that may be the best thing you can do. You can't get the Columbia students to go and take over City Hall; the workers won't shut down the factories now. Maybe at Columbia or any place one of the biggest things you could do is to recruit people into the party. Why? Because you will politicize workers and you will have more forces to go among the masses to politicize them, and try to improve them. The revolutionary movement doesn't come out of the air. You have to raise political ideas among a lot of people. That is the most important thing you can do. It gives the revolutionary Left, our party, much more strength and footing, and when there's a bigger change in the objective circumstances, we'll be in a position to do a lot more and really raise the struggle to a higher level, going further and if possible, all the way. The essence of our political role among the working people is to advocate class consciousness, unity of the people in struggle, to clear out misleaders, and bring political consciousness into the movement.
How does any movement overcome its obstacles? It has to clear away those within its ranks who have the enemy's ideas. You have to clear away those obstacles in order to move ahead. Now it's true you can make a lot of mistakes. That's right. You can't act indiscriminately; And we have to be careful not to attack our friends, and to know who our friends are. But we are trying to make a differentiation between the people and the false leaders, the misleaders, because the people are our friends and it's often the leadership who are bad. Just to say that the system is bad is not enough. It's good to say this, it's decisive to say this, but it's not sufficient. It's only the first step. We have to fight the class struggle within the movement and within our party. Not because we're trying to dance on the head of a pin, but because we're trying to make the movement and the party stronger, and defeat those obstacles that prevent us from moving ahead. That's why we try to carry on struggle from within.
Now maybe, here and there, maybe on any specific point, the party is wrong. Maybe Dr. Spock is our friend. Maybe Walter Reuther is our friend. Maybe LeRoi Jones is our friend. Maybe we're wrong. How will that be proven, that the party is wrong? How will we prove that the party is wrong and made a wrong estimate of these people? Life, struggle, will show if we're wrong. And if we have a self-critical ability then the party will reverse itself. Then the party will say, "look, we made a mistake." I'm not saying we must consciously go out and make errors. I'm just saying that there's got to be a delineation, a method of establishing who are friends and who are enemies and some method of resolving problems, some method of moving ahead, and some method of self-correction.
We have to see that this ideological struggle, within the party, and outside the party, is basic to giving leadership to the party and to the masses. It is an essential aspect of struggle. It means breaking down lazy thinking, getting off our asses and it means taking the initiative to do things we don't like. That's right. Very often we don't do the best thing in these struggles. We have to learn to fight in the best possible way and respond to these struggles in the best possible way. Even if at this particular moment you're not expert at giving and taking criticism the answer is not to avoid doing it. You will learn how to do it by doing it and that's just as hard as any other work. It's just as difficult. As we said many times, we must begin to curb liberalism in the party. We must intensify the class struggle in the party in a way which reduces antagonisms and contradictions among our friends and sharpens them with our enemy.
This is the class struggle in the party. All these differences of opinion reflect the various trends among the people. These differences don't fall out of the sky. It's got everything to do with working with people. Of course we can't not work with people. That's why you need the collective: to throw all these ideas into the hopper. The collective sorts it out and puts it together, and tries to make a scientific plan based on the various experiences that we all have had.
I think that if we don't develop this collective approach in the party, and if we don't see what the essence of our political role is among the masses then we're going to lose the perspective of state power and we're going to become a reformist party. We're going to become like the others. That's a big responsibility that we have, to try and prevent this from happening, to try and see that our party plays its revolutionary role because, as we said before, U.S. imperialism is the oppressor, the main enemy of the peoples of the world and those of us who are Communists have the responsibility of helping to destroy this system.
Up until this point I think we have made some progress. But speaking for myself, I feel that we have been very weak in conducting political and ideological struggles within the party and outside of the party. I feel we have been very lax in allowing a lot of shortcomings to exist, to sort of look the other way. It's hard to struggle within the party. We grow cozy with one another. We're all pals. We all know one another. And when you work with people in the mass movement, that same thing happens sometimes. It becomes a touchy thing to criticize this one and that one. I have certainly been one of the main culprits in the party in allowing a lot of things to go by the board, even many times repressing or diverting political struggle and trying to soft-pedal it.
Naturally you try to use common sense. You don't want to turn the party into a football field where you can have anarchism and everybody just vents his spleen. There's a scientific way of developing political struggle so that it helps the party, so it helps the masses and helps our people to become political leaders. We have an understanding, we have some guidelines, democratic centralism, some sense of Communist discipline, some hatred of the enemy. Therefore, I hope that one of the uses of this convention might serve, besides developing our program in various areas, is to sharpen these political and ideological struggles in the party so that we can get all our party members to work more seriously, more acceptably. And consequently, serve the masses.
When we are talking about serving the masses, this is what we're talking about. We're not talking about bringing them coffee and cake. We're talking about bringing communist political ideas into their ranks so they can conduct the struggle against the enemy in a better way, so they can achieve their aspirations. A lot of shortcomings that exist in the party can be overcome because most of the people in the party, perhaps almost everyone in the party has the desire to do this work. That desire won't be fulfilled unless a collective effort is made.
Very often people hang back and don't overcome their problems precisely because they are not fought with. If you take the easy way with them, they will take the easy way with themselves, and nothing changes. If you don't criticize somebody and raise things with him it retards his ability to develop self-criticism. We are working under the assumption that most people are trying to do a political job and if things are pointed out to them in a constructive political way it will help them reflect on it and make a self-critical evaluation of this criticism. I think that is very important, and not an academic question.
Become a leader to people, a people's tribune, but not a boss. Become someone whom people will rely on and respect and who will recognize your respect and admiration and loyalty and devotion to them. Become someone whom they recognize as a serious, committed person, not somebody who is frivolous, not someone who is like the trade union bureaucrats or the rest of the fakers that exist in the people's movements, somebody that's in it just for themselves. Because you know how people talk about these types. "Ah, he's in it for himself. He's out to get what he can." That's how they think about most leaders, and unfortunately, there's a lot of truth about that.
People say that's the way it is in our country. "Yeah, everybody is out for himself." So, they accept it. But when you come before somebody and you say, "Look, buddy, I'm a communist, I'm not out for myself. I'm out to server the people," and list all the good things, they'll say,"Ah, it sounds good." But they're going to watch you and see if it's true. And the minute you start acting for yourself, they'll say, "Ah, just like the others. Out for himself."
You see that's what people all over the world are saying about the soviet revisionists. That's what they are saying. "Just like the other capitalists, out for themselves, get what they can." Of course that may be the simple man's way of summing up history. But I want to tell you, that's a very essential point because that's the way most of the people's leaders in this country act. They are out for themselves. "What's in it for me?" That's what the guys said about Hoffa. "Ah, I know he's out for himself. But at least he's trying to get me something." That's the way people refer to Hoffa. "Well, at least he's not like Meany. Meany doesn't even bother. Hoffa will try to get us a dime or something. So let him has his million dollars, or whatever it is."
But that can't be good enough for us! "Well, Murray is so-so, but at least he's better than I am." That's a pretty crummy way for people to evaluate us. That would be a real criticism. If people think of us like that then we'd better either change or pack it in.
I think we have the goods to transform ourselves, to really serve the people, to really be responsible to one another, and to really go all the way. Our responsibility is to our party, and our loyalty is to the people and to Marxism-Leninism. It is up to us. Do we really believe that, do we really act in that way, and do everything necessary to make that so? That really means becoming persons of integrity. All of us. I'm talking about myself., because I don't think I am developed to that point. I have a long way to go.