*See also, what is "sectarianism"?
*See also, "why doesn't MIM have more members?"
[In a nutshell, history, has proven that large coalitions do not
anything done if led by contradictory leaders or ideologies. Large
united fronts led by scientifically focussed Marxist-Leninist parties
have a record of getting things done this century. Numbers are often
comforting but never useful in and of themselves in getting things done.]
Why MIM's attitude toward "leftist" groups
by the Maoist Internationalist Movement
Hank Roth recently commented that MIM incorrectly stresses that
there is one road into socialism and hence does not "work" with
other "leftists." Indeed, the plethora of "socialist" organizations
out there is daunting to the inexperienced. Why are there so many?
"Why don't they work together?" ask many people.
As MIM has said in previous postings, MIM in fact does work with
other people who are not Maoists. In fact, most of the people MIM
works with are not Maoists. Furthermore, MIM also has a history of
working with organizations that we believe have incorrectly revised
Marxism. Yet, despite these disclaimers, it is true that MIM aims to
find the best road into socialism. That is not the same thing as
saying there is one road into socialism, which is what our critics
usually say when they are simplifying matters.
MIM's basic problem with most "leftist" organizations is very
simple: Their ideologies and strategies have led no where toward
the abolition of class, national or gender oppression.
We would like to think more highly of the many people calling
themselves "leftists," "Trotskyists," "DeLeonists" etc., but alas it
is not possible. Of course, we ourselves were often Trotskyists,
anarchists and so on, but there is a difference between an
inexperienced fool and a calculated one. We are all fools, but some
of us learn from history, both recent and more distant.
It turns out in history that "unity" and "working together" in
mushy "leftist" coalitions DOES NOT WORK. Splitting opportunist
mush-collections for the benefit of theoretical clarity DOES WORK
to promote revolution and the abolition of oppression.
It is unfortunately--for our esteem for most Amerikan "leftists"--
that simple. We invite our readers to study this carefully with us.
Lenin split the international "socialist" movement, and thank
goodness because most of the other fools (a.k.a. leftists) of his day
lined up for the World War. It was not the mushy Mensheviks who
pulled the Russians out of World War I. It was the mushy socialists
who joined in large majorities the imperialist war on the sides of
their governments throughout Europe. They failed to end World
War I. Strike one against opportunism this century.
Today the same thing is happening on the issue of the white working
class. The vast majority of "socialists" are doing something with
proven results--in South Africa: They USED oppressed Black
workers to whatever extent they could for the benefit of white
workers' demands. MIM cannot work with people to bolster the
international apartheid system known as u.s. imperialism. Just as
in World War I, a majority of "leftists" think they are doing fine,
but in reality they are fools, either inexperienced or calculated.
For every 1000 attempts at opportunist unity of "socialists" that
end up no where or supporting fascism (as with the United Left in
Peru today), there is one case of a well-disciplined and
scientifically guided organization actually leading change.
It was not the Trotskyists who have led a revolution anywhere since
1925. Not one country. Strike two against opportunism that would
give quarter to Trotskyism.
Meanwhile it was the revolutionary vanguard parties in the
traditions of Stalin and Mao (not just Marx and Lenin) who led
successful revolutions repeatedly throughout this century--USSR,
China, Albania, North Korea, Vietnam etc. It was also the Black
Panthers, the New People's Army in the Philippines etc. that
started in the tradition of Stalin and Mao (gasp, gasp). We could go
on and on. Committed communists who COMPARE the success of
movements in various traditions will inevitably come to MIM's
It is very hard for us who follow in the traditions of Marx, Lenin,
Stalin and Mao to take Trotskyism, DeLeonism etc. seriously except
in the cases of the politically inexperienced. If we were in the
business of publishing poetry or writing academic journals then
certainly we would adopt the "coalition" and unity of "leftists"
approach, because certainly there are many, many "leftists" good at
wasting time talking about certain aspects of revolution.
When it comes to reality however, we at MIM have a duty to point
out the difference between poetry and action. People who study
carefully will find that the all too few successes this century have
been in the traditions of Stalin and Mao.
We at MIM believe people committed to ending oppression will look
seriously into history and what works and what doesn't. We can't
take seriously people who aren't able to do that after a certain
What follows is a MIM review of an article that was a feeble attempt
by Jim O'Brien to criticize "American Leninism in the 1970s." This
article concluded that building parties and achieving theoretical
clarity was a waste of time, mostly because none of the Maoist
parties or others surpassed the old Communist Party in size.
Many leftists have an inordinate obsession with size. However, as
the United Left in Peru has discovered, having a large number of
prattling intellectuals and even a portion of the electorate behind
you is no guarantee of having a political line with any semblance of
long-run sanity. The United Left has crashed as have countless
opportunist groups that simply could not focus on reality and a
scientific analysis of it.
In the end the Russian masses lined up with Lenin; although months
earlier many thought of him as "crazy." It just goes to show that the
truth often resides with the unpopular, especially in imperialist
and semi-imperialist countries.
August 7, 1990
A xerox copy of the article by O'Brien is available for $3
cash. MIM, PO Box 3576, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-3576
The first thing to point out about this is that it is a
historical essay already because "American Leninism" is now in
the Gorbachev era. The pro-Moscow parties across the world are
dropping their insistence on upholding Lenin's What Is To Be
Done? For example, the British Communist Party has really
dropped any semblance of communism; others have dissolved
Still the essay is valuable because to understand where things
come from in the United States, you need to know this history.
The recent diatribes I wrote against revisionism in the United
States and its strangling of internationalism is much related
to this past. (See MIM Notes 42)
Soon however, we can hope that the CP will dissolve. Surely it
cannot avoid a period of even greater confusion and change
very revealing to people who follow things over a long period
Anyway, about O'Brien's article: the main thing O'Brien wants
to do is piss on the idea of building a real communist party
in this country.
The main thing that the author seeks to prove is that the
parties that arose out of SDS in the 1960s do not have the
size or other kinds of visible success of the Communist Party,
which he did not imagine having the kind of problems it has
today. Therefore, if you look at these efforts "objectively"
in O'Brien's mind, you should give up on revolution. Nothing
even surpasses the CP.
O'Brien's ideology is what will be labelled "sizeism" and
"pragmatism." Really, this is an invidious comparisons game
applied on the organizational level.
Anyway, O'Brien goes through the history of the splinters
since SDS. This is the only reason to read his article. It's
good sectarian training.
It's just that none of this history can really prove the point
O'Brien wants to make. At a larger comparative historical
level, O'Brien's argument falls apart. It is really quite
interesting that O'Brien notices this without addressing it.
"Second, the existence of more than a dozen countries governed
by Leninist parties offered a prospect of apparent success."
In the United States, he also should have started with the CP
in the 1930s. He would have noticed all the actual gains it
won with its power.
He should have noticed that the Maoist-inspired Black Panthers
(before they were smashed and degenerated) organized more
Blacks for revolutionary change than any previous group in
post-World War II history. Yet, this gets passed over in the
discussion as the essay focuses on other groups. O'Brien
clearly does not take the Panthers seriously, while he takes
semi-Trotskyist groups like Workers Power or the Socialist
Worker Party that dropped its Leninism more seriously. (There
appear to be more noises about Marx and Lenin in the SWP paper
Anybody who takes Trotskyism more seriously than the Black
Panthers clearly hasn't thought too much about history. Even
by O'Brien's own measuring rod of numbers, the Trotskyists
have been a failure, even in this land of the bought-off white
working class that according to the Spartacist League in
classic Trotskyist industrialized-is-better-form "is amongst
the most advanced in the world."
Another point is that the article proceeds without an analysis
of goals and talks vaguely about the "left" as most "leftists"
are apt to do. So for "O'Brien," organizing white workers is a
success and with that as a measuring rod he not surprisingly
concludes that the revolutionaries have been a failure.
Finally, it is this kind of unspecified measuring rod of the
movement that leads O'Brien to conclude that party
organization itself is a waste of time. "Even at best, a
tremendous amount of time, for members of nearly all the
Leninist groups, is spent in activities whose chief purpose is
to build the organization itself rather than to spur working
class activity more directly." (p. 33) This implies that
O'Brien thinks that people should dissolve their parties and
just join the working class, something he also implies by
saying that the Leninist who were students who took up blue-
collar work are doing the best work. (p. 32)
In the closing pages of the article, O'Brien hammers the issue
of size and concludes that the plan to build a genuine
communist party is a failure. Then he throws in that the SWP
degenerated into reformism (no surprise to those who never
took the Trotskyists seriously.) For the rest he attacks each
group with one anecdote each and thinks that is a serious
evaluation of their revolutionary coherence. And while MIM
does not agree with any of the groups O'Brien cites, MIM would
not use that kind of empiricist method to attack them.
So whenever O'Brien intends to lead people, he ends up taking
them into anarchism, sizeism and pragmatism. No where does he
take his own measuring rods and examine them from a
comparative historical perspective to see if they have any
Yet, MIM has already done this. Size of an organization says
nothing about its eventual historical impact as the Bolshevik
party and the Chinese Communist Party have both already proved
in comparison with larger organizations--mush-collections
without a scientific class analysis.
And like it or not, organization is necessary to get things
done. It is not an accident that the Communist Party of the
1930s accomplished what it did in putting together the CIO and
the whole deal for labor at the time. On the reverse side of
things, while disciplined organizations have seized power
again and again in the world, mush-collections and
individualist organizers have failed again and again in the
world in creating social change.
The best historical example to the contrary is the FSLN of
Nicaragua, which is pretty mushy although not totally devoid
of organization or a line. To a large extent, the FSLN led
part of a bourgeois revolution, and much of what is said above
does not apply to bourgeois revolutions. Yet even to the
extent that the FSLN seemed to be for something more, the FSLN
still proves the weaknesses of pluralist approaches in an
imperialist-dominated world. The FSLN took on a battle within
the rules of the pluralist game and lost. In the end, the
legacy that the FSLN leaves in the struggle toward ending
oppression is smaller than that of Albania, another small
agricultural country with a population of 3 million. Nicaragua
seems "heavier" in many deluded people's minds, but in
actuality, the revolution in Albania went further. If the FSLN
is to have success in the future, it will be to the degree it
ignores its own pluralistic rhetoric and takes up Maoism.
In conclusion, O'Brien's whole problem is the measuring rods
of success that he chose. Size, pluralism of views and white
working class roots have no proven track record of being
important in the battle against oppression. Where steps toward
the ending of oppression have been made, these factors were
Some concluding notes for p.news
Although influenced by Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Castro and the
FSLN in Nicaragua we must recognize as "their own thing." There is
at least something to talk about in their cases, as opposed to the
cases of Trotskyism, anarchism or DeLeonism.
Perhaps we could make allowances for no revolutionary movements
in a country over a period of 70 years. But a whole planet? Unless
we are pure dogmatists or poets, rejection by the whole planet over
a 70 year period of time should be a clue. Unfortunately, most of
our intellectual-nihilist critics are not able to get that clue.
Why don't they get a clue? Why do intellectuals make useless
criticisms of real world progress? Why don't they get on board and
try to improve successful movements from within? The reason is
that they were trained by the ruling class to get their acclaim for
picking apart intellectual ideas. Create an intellectual fad and
make yourself famous the bourgeoisie has trained intellectuals to
think. Hence, intellectuals are willing to destroy what is beautiful
in the real world for the benefit of what is beautiful in their heads
--and that is in the best case scenarios. (By the way, for the same
reasons many intellectuals reject democratic centralism; they
uphold their individual ideas as more important than practical
unity and capacity to strike at the reactionaries.)
Many intellectuals and activists are consciously opposed to the
goals of abolishing class, nation and gender oppression. Some work
professionally for the white nation labor aristocracy. It's a way to
make a living. Others are paid to serve bourgeois interests more
directly. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect a "unity" of the
"left." First we have to define "left" and then we have to agree on
what success is.