by Comrade Amil K.
The question of what are the tasks of proletarian revolutionaries amongst the masses remains a major point of difference1 between and an obstacle to the unification of the two revolutionary communist organizations in Canada, the Revolutionary Communist Party and our own organization, Revolutionary Initiative. This article is intended to explain the answer to this question not only to advance the unity-struggle-transformation process between Canada’s two revolutionary communist organizations, but also as a general discussion that all revolutionaries should be having.
How RI understands mass work of proletarian revolutionaries can be broken down into three questions:
First, what is the correct form of revolutionary leadership by proletarian revolutionaries among the masses? Based on the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, we uphold the mass line method of leadership; but we do not take it for granted that upholding the mass line theory leads to its implementation in practice. A related question to the mass line in particular and mass work in general is who we understand the advanced masses to be – a question that, as is argued below, follows from our understanding of the contradictions of Canadian society. We cannot define our mass work unless we know what sections of the masses we prioritize in our work.
Based on the answer we give to these questions, we then proceed to answer a second major question: How should proletarian revolutionaries relate to the masses in the current phase of revolutionary struggle, which is a phase of regroupement of proletarian revolutionaries in Canada? Or in other words, what should be the relationship between the Party and the masses broadly?
Third, based on our answers to Questions 1 and 2, we must answer the question of what should the character and role of the mass movement in the proletarian revolution be? We argue that the mass movement must be the basis for the construction of proletarian hegemony.
The answers we give to each of these questions is based on five fruitful years of practical party-building by Revolutionary Initiative. Since 2010, we have been operating under a Five Year Plan to satisfy what we deem to be the necessary preconditions for establishing a genuine proletarian revolutionary vanguard. In these years we have had ample opportunity to test out many of our preliminary hypotheses on party-building we set out in our foundational documents, hypotheses that were developed to publicly articulate our unresolved differences with the RCP-Canada at the time of their first Canadian Revolutionary Congress in late 2006.
In the interest of advancing the unity-struggle-transformation process amongst revolutionaries in this country – between the RCP and RI and more broadly amongst all proletarian revolutionaries – we are initiating this discussion in an open fashion. After a number of years of more or less active “unity-struggle” between RI and RCP-Canada we have made little headway towards unification on a principled basis – which is not for lack of effort on the part of RI.
(1) The Correct Form of Leadership is the Mass Line
Our organization upholds the principle of the mass line – first articulated by Mao Zedong, but since refined and honed by many Maoist forces – as being the highest and clearest articulation of the correct form of proletarian revolutionary leadership amongst the masses.
Although scattered throughout speeches and writings spanning many years in the revolutionary struggle, the collection of quotations from Mao Zedong on the mass line forms one of the richest articulations of a revolutionary epistemology and pedagogy in the International Communist Movement – that is, epistemology and pedagogy at the service of the proletarian revolution.
Epistemology is that branch of philosophy that deals with questions of where knowledge comes from and how knowledge is produced. In Mao’s On Practice, the answer given to this question is that in the contradiction (unity of opposites) between knowledge and practice, knowing and doing, the truth of a idea stems from social practice. The correctness of a concept is rooted in a systemization of our perceptions or the phenomenon we observe around us. Taken with Mao’s On Contradiction, these two pieces amount to Mao Zedong’s contribution to and enrichment of dialectical materialism.
Another dimension of the mass line is its pedagogical content, which speaks to the relationship between teaching and learning. Some academics of education theory would call this a ‘critical pedagogy’, based on the watered-down, liberal interpretation of the radical Brazilian educator Paolo Freire’s Pegagogy of the Oppressed. Critical pedagogy is a method of teaching and learning where the teacher not only teaches the student, but learns from the student as well. The student is not an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. The teacher, regardless of his/her expertise on a topic, cannot teach the student effectively without engaging with the student’s own experiences and knowledge, which also teaches the teacher.
If the communist is the teacher, then what s/he strives to teach is materialist dialectics and history and the strategic orientation for revolutionary struggle. But the mass line recognizes that one cannot teach revolutionary politics adequately without first being familiar with the conditions and experiences of the masses, and that knowing can only come by way of humbly learning from and being taught by the masses. Communist ideas are not neat little pre-packaged ideas that we just have to go out and disseminate amongst the people. The most important communist ideas, those that RI seeks to develop, are the mass-lined communist ideas – ideas that have been substantially enriched by knowing and living the experiences of the people in all the specificity and particularity that is required to advance class struggle in any given place and time.
Both the epistemological and pedagogical aspects of Mao Zedong’s mass line speak to the complimentary but opposing aspects of leadership that make up a unified whole: how we gather the ideas and how we disseminate them, how we teach and learn, and how we lead but also take leadership from the people. It is this form of leadership, a proletarian revolutionary leadership, that constantly strives to expand the horizon of proletarian revolutionary leadership in preparation for revolution and the mass administration of socialist society and through the process of continuous revolution until we have reached a classless communist society.
The most succinct formulation of the mass line given by Mao are in phrases like:
Take the ideas of the masses and concentrate them, then go to the masses, persevere in the ideas and carry them through, so as to form correct ideas of leadership – such is the basic method of leadership.
Or even briefer, “From the masses, to the masses.”
What Mao meant by concentrating the ideas of the masses was that after gathering the scattered but most progressive, advanced, and revolutionary ideas from the people, it was necessary to filter and refine those ideas through a dialectical and historical materialist analysis of the society in question – and then return back to the people those ideas in a concentrated form.
But what are these “advanced ideas”? Is it knowledge of classical literature or an understanding of the physical sciences? Do the most intelligent people have the most “advanced ideas”? Of course not. A substantial bulk of the advanced masses to be found in the context of the Chinese revolution were illiterate peasants. The “advanced ideas” Mao referred to were those ideas that could be harnessed and developed for the revolutionary struggle, ideas that corresponded to a revolutionary alignment of the correct social forces against the principal class enemies in the society, “advanced” in the sense of being truly historically progressive for the bulk of humanity (not to be confused with those “progressives” in the imperialist countries who advocate for a capitalism that benefits their lot at the expense of the continuing misery, violence, and super-exploitation for the rest of humanity.
For example, an old West Indian granny in a poor neighbourhood who sees the police as a greater enemy than the youth hanging around in the stairwells of her building, and who fails to be incited by Islamophobia against the new Afghani refugee family that just moved in next door because she’s sees in them the same struggling, dispossessed proletarian migrant she once was (or still is!) has some “advanced ideas” that can, at the very least, be mobilized for mass struggle. A white auto-worker in a small industrial town in southern Ontario who sees himself as more on side with the native folks asserting their land rights than the government and the bosses also has some “advanced ideas”.
Since “advanced ideas” are scattered amongst the people, and since most people hold some combination of backward ideas and advanced ideas, we can and must classify the people in accordance with how advanced their consciousness is. There’s no other way to test consciousness than through social practice and mass struggle. In an imperialist, colonial, and bourgeois society like Canada, we find varying degrees of allegiance to or hatred for the ruling classes and their ideas. A million factors influence where one can fall on such a spectrum, such as: class position, class background, class trajectory, or the degree to which one is influenced by bourgeois ideological apparatuses on a day-to-day basis versus one’s level of exposure to proletarian revolutionary ideological influences.
The hegemony of the imperialist bourgeoisie over the masses is incomplete, limited, and must constantly be renewed to be effective. It is incapable of totally subordinating the oppressed and exploited masses, given that the relations of production in an imperialist world system will always generate the system’s gravediggers. That its hegemony is incomplete is to recognize that there are always people that can be won over to revolutionary struggle – even in non-revolutionary situations – and it is to suggest that there are advanced layers that must be united so that they can provide leadership to those under a greater degree of hegemony by the imperialist bourgeoisie. Understanding this, Mao classified the people into three parts:
The masses in any given place are generally composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward. The leaders must therefore be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate elements and to win over the backward elements.
“Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” (June 1, 1943), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 118.
Unite the “active” or advanced to organize the “middle” to win over the “backward” elements of the masses –this is the mass line expressed in political terms.
But who are these advanced elements in our own society?
The advanced masses in Canada are those in an antagonistic contradiction with Canadian imperialism and have a subjective understanding of that contradiction
In general terms, we define the advanced masses as those who are in contradiction with Canadian imperialism, are to some degree conscious of that contradiction, and are willing to struggle against that contradiction. They may not understand their enemy as ‘Canadian imperialism’, but that is the conceptual leap that we strive to generate an understanding of when we systematize people’s experiences of oppression and exploitation. But there is, however, a material basis for being part of the advanced masses: those who stand in antagonistic contradiction with Canada’s political economy – i.e. with no possibility of reconciling that contradiction. While there are and will continue to be revolutionaries who come not from the most oppressed and exploited masses, our project is principally to unite those in an antagonistic contradiction with Canadian imperialism, whose material interests cannot be reconciled with Canada’s economic system.
By definition then, a more specific and detailed answer to the question of who the advanced masses are can only be given on the basis of a comprehensive class analysis and historical materialist overview of Canadian society – which RI is, admittedly, still in the process of developing. We do not yet have a developed program for revolution in this country, nor do we pretend to. So the following considerations can only reflect the transitional and incomplete analysis RI has advanced thus far on Canadian society based on the few years of experience we have in party building. With that disclaimer, let’s provide a very brief overview of the contradictions in Canadian society as we understand them, so as to qualify who we identify as “advanced”.
Canada’s dominant position in the international division of labour – evidenced by Canadian corporations and banks operating and dominating all across the world, super-exploiting workers in all continents and plundering their lands – is only one aspect of Canadian imperialism. That these corporations are able to compete and dominate globally is part of what makes Canada an imperialist power in the imperialist world system.
As a country with internal colonies and colonized people – the native lands and the indigenous peoples and nations within Canada’s colonial borders – there is a colonial division within Canadian society as well. As the world’s second largest country (based on lands Canada claims but has not yet conquered2) and as a settler society, Canada has always been heavily reliant upon migrant workers to replenish the lower ranks of its proletariat (as well as skilled workers and some professionals). For decades after the second inter-imperialist war (WWII), many industrial workers along with many public sector workers were bourgeoisified and won over to a pro-imperialist class peace against the interests of the more superexploited (im)migrant workers, black and urban native workers, women workers, reserve-based indigenous peoples, and the peoples of the colonies and neocolonies oppressed and exploited by Canadian imperialism all across the world. In the last few years, especially since the onset of the 2008 crisis of the imperialist world system, this upper stratum is experiencing a precipitous decline in its income and social security. The leadership of opportunist labour aristocrats over this strata has left it seriously lacking in the ideological, political, or organizational means to fight back against the capitalist offensive. It’s ideology is class peace, it’s politics is social democracy, and it’s organizational basis is a bureaucratized labour movement that has been unable to resist the austerity offensive. This pro-imperialist class peace – a forsaking of proletarian revolutionary solidarity – is now coming back to bite them in the ass. Nevertheless, it is among this strata of the working class that the illusions of social democracy and liberalism remain the strongest.
On the basis of the said points, the “advanced masses” are those who can be rallied and consolidated to play a leading role in the proletarian revolution, those whose class background, position, trajectory and most importantly class consciousness, provide the most solid subjective and objective basis for building a proletarian revolutionary movement. Needless to say, having “advanced ideas” is not the same as having a proletarian revolutionary consciousness, since the latter is a systematization and broadening out of the former via a scientific socialist (i.e. dialectical and historical materialist) understanding of the world. But it’s the advanced elements we must seek out and struggle amongst so as to develop and consolidate proletarian revolutionaries.
We believe that the advanced masses reveal themselves in a number of ways in Canadian society, listed here in no significant order. Although each of these categories cut across classes, it should go without saying that we must prioritize the recruitment of those who derive from the most oppressed and exploited masses.
(i) Anti-capitalist revolutionaries:
We begin with that very small proportion of the masses who have arrived by whatever means at the conclusion that capitalism must be overthrown and/or who identify with revolutionary ideas such as anarchism, socialism, and communism. These are the advanced masses which most “left” groups concentrate on in their recruitment drives, especially by focusing on social movement spaces and university campuses.
We must embrace and advance the most steadfast revolutionaries amongst these elements of society, while struggling against many of the erroneous ideas that prevail amongst the same people, such as the electoralism, reformism, pacifism, first world chauvinism, bureaucratism, identity politics, social movementism, anti-organizational anarchism, anti-communism, etc.
But this section of society remains small and isolated as a result of the ideological hegemony exercised by the bourgeoisie over what the masses believe socialism and communism to be, a belief that matches not the historical record but rather the bourgeoisie’s fantastically distorted and nightmarish recollections of what they were. “Communism” is a word that has been much maligned and distorted by our class enemies. The historical achievements of the communist parties in many parts of the world as vanguards of workers’ liberation, women’s liberation, and anti-colonial liberation have been buried under a mountain of lies and distortions. The true causes of the defeat of socialism – reformism and revisionism within the communist movement – are obscured, keeping revolutionaries today from being able to correctly synthesize the positive and negative lessons of previous generations of struggle. The greatest revolutionary leaders are attacked as the greatest monsters in history. What a way to keep the masses from examining what these figures actually had to say and what they actually contributed! Instead of making a correct (proletarian revolutionary) assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of previous revolutionary leaders and experiences, so many of us have swallowed the bourgeoisie’s assessment of these experiences and leaders. From the perspective of the imperialist bourgeoisie, of course the ideas of Mao Zedong and the experience of the Chinese revolution are monstrously totalitarian! Revolution is not a democratic thing in relation to the exploiting classes. Meanwhile, the most reformist and revisionist “communist” leaders are celebrated by bourgeois historians as great reformers and democrats, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev and Yeltsin, from Deng Zhao-Ping to Vaclav Havel and all the other traitors to the proletarian revolution in between.
So if the people are hearing what the bourgeoisie has trained them to hear when we talk about “communism” then why the hell would anyone want to join a communist Party? But in struggling alongside the masses, especially the most exploited and oppressed, around their various concerns and issues, we can dispel the bourgeois slanders against the proletarian revolution and assist the people in rediscovering its lessons through direct experience and indirectly through study.
Because of what people think “communism” is, the size of the forces across Canada who spontaneously identify with communism or socialism will not be substantial enough to serve as the main recruitment ground or a launching point for a proletarian revolutionary vanguard in this country. Hence, there will be many ideological obstacles to be overcome with the militant anti-capitalists we meet. These challenges are not raised to discount the these sections of the masses, which we would ignore at our own peril. The most revolutionary and steadfast among these forces – especially from proletarian backgrounds and the oppressed nations, can and must be developed to play a prominent role in the revolutionary struggle.
However, there are other ways to understand the advanced masses based on the contradictions that make up Canadian society. The advanced masses consist not only of those who have developed a subjective viewpoint that the system as a whole is rotten, parasitic and has to go – which may or may not correspond to their own lived experiences – but also those who live suffer the most exploitative and oppressive aspects of the system on a daily basis and most often have a very rich understanding of their own oppression and exploitation.
The following categories of the advanced masses are framed in terms of subjective outlook, but the most important elements amongst these advanced elements have an objective basis for their ideas.
(ii) Defenders of the rights and welfare of the people
Another important section of the advanced masses are the mass leaders and community organizers who put in their tireless efforts in defense of the political rights, economic well-being and social welfare of the people. Foremost among these are the tireless unpaid community organizers and volunteers who serve the people expecting to gain nothing in return. Some paid workers can be included among this section of the advanced masses – such as some social service workers, unionists, teachers, etc – if they have clearly demonstrated that they are willing to place the interests of the people ahead of their own careers and self-aggrandizement and clearly go far beyond their paid duties to serve the people.
Foremost in significance among these organizers and servants of the people, however, are those who actually come from the affected strata of society, and are driven not by paternalistic conceptions of charity or liberal humanitarianism but of struggle and solidarity. Among such people we must still struggle against tendencies like economism – the tendency to focus only on meeting people’s short-term needs at the expense and to the exclusion of developing revolutionary ideology, politics, and organization – and reformism, the idea that capitalism can be reformed to fully meet the needs of the people. We must also struggle against any national chauvinist, religious, and social chauvinist sentiments that place the needs, welfare, and interests of some of the masses in Canada against those of others, be they non-status peoples, migrant workers, workers abroad, indigenous people, other ethnic groups, etc.
Such mass leaders and servants of the people we must be win over to a revolutionary approach to serving the people, an approach that emphasizes and prioritizes the construction of proletarian hegemony in the course of their work.
Another section of the advanced masses in Canada are those who are opposed to the colonial character of the Canadian state and society. The vast majority of the indigenous peoples and nations who are struggling to defend their lands against Canadian imperialism and colonialism, who are being herded into Canadian prisons at genocidal proportions, who have been and are still being dispossessed and impoverished by Canadian colonialism, and who can identify their main enemy as the Canadian state and its colonial policies, are part of the advanced masses.
To be sure, there are some natives whose rewards outweigh any exploitation, dispossession or oppression they have experienced at the hands of Canadian colonialism. There are the big enemies of indigenous liberation, like the bureaucrat capitalists of the Indian Affairs bureaucracy who are handsomely compensated by the Canadian state and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for playing their part in the colonial bureaucracy, like former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine (who now advises the Royal Bank of Canada). The native comprador and bureaucrat capitalists rely on the likes of national liquidationists like former Kamloops Chief Manny Jules, who is the lead ideological proponent of the ‘Fee-Simple’ scheme that would amend the Indian Act to break up reserve system by commodifying and municipalizing its land base, thereby completely extinguishing the national rights of natives to their land and turning it over to the unbridled domination of monopoly capital.
There are also some non-Aboriginal people who are opposed to Canadian colonialism by virtue of knowing, having seen, or having studied the history and present state of Canadian colonialism. But many of these forces are driven more by white settler guilt than revolutionary solidarity and are hostile to the proletarian revolution. So they must be won over to support the full national liberation of indigenous people alongside a proletarian revolutionary and anti-imperialist project.
There are also some big native capitalists that benefit from Canada’s imperialist position in the international relations of production, such as the few billionaires of the Grand River Enterprises based out of Six Nations, who operate Canada’s third largest cigarette manufacturer with multinational operations.
However, by and large, the vast majority of indigenous people are nothing like these compradors and bureaucrat capitalists. The vast majority are being severely impoverished or dispossessed by Canadian colonialism along with all the genocidal colonial violence that is required to destroy a nation.
The very struggle of indigenous peoples to survive as peoples and nations comes into direct conflict with the interests of the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie to plunder the lands and resources of native lands and exterminate the native peoples as such. Canada’s big mining companies and banks by definition have no interest but to rape indigenous lands of their resources and in the process eliminate them as nations, as they have done for centuries. But the anti-colonial movement is limited in how far it can proceed without revolutionary unity with the rest of the proletariat. Any form of indigenous self-determination that keeps Canadian imperialism in tact will be nothing but neo-colonialism.
The task of the proletarian revolution must be to effect a convergence between the anti-colonial movement in Canada with the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements. It is not the place of the non-indigenous part of the movement to dictate what form the national liberation movement of indigenous people will take. Its the task of the proletarian revolutionary movement to assert the need to build a revolutionary united front with the Indian national liberation movement, struggling to unite the movements of the most oppressed and exploited settlers and immigrants with it. Since the indigenous liberation struggle is already an objectively present form, the greater challenge here is not the winning over the anti-colonial movement (which already exists) to the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement, but the development of the struggles of the poor, the workers, and the immigrants into a revolutionary unity with indigenous peoples against Canadian imperialism. It is also a greater challenge because indigenous people as such – or the Indian nation, if you will – must continue to be decimated and dispersed for Canadian imperialism to survive. Canadian imperialism is founded upon and continues to be driven by resource extraction of its internal colonies and also of semi-colonial across the world. It’s easier to buy off and corrupt sections of the proletariat in the imperialist centers and cities than it is to compromise with the land claims of indigenous people. Nonetheless, there can be no overthrow of Canada’s imperialist bourgeoisie if we do not starve it of the pillage it takes from the internal colonies and unconditionally support genuine national liberation for indigenous peoples.
(iv) Anti-imperialist and pro-national liberation for the oppressed countries
Another substantial portion of the advanced masses in Canada are those who support or who can be won over to supporting national liberation struggles in their countries of origin, namely immigrants and their children. Anti-imperialist forces can be developed out of that substantial part of the population that is relatively new to Canada, the immigrant families who continue to have a stake in and/or identify with the lands and nations from which they come. Leaving aside for a moment their interests as proletarians or petty-bourgeois elements in Canada, many immigrants still look to the mounting disasters in their home countries with sorrow and indignation. While this outlook can also be a conservatizing influence (“Thank God I’m in Canada!”), we must struggle with the immigrant masses to recognize the role of imperialism in exploiting their countries, fueling the reactionary civil wars, and defending the most reactionary and repressive forces.
Many still have family members who they worry about, if not directly support through remittances. A great number of these people can be won over to supporting the national liberation struggles and revolutionary movements back at home, and must be struggled with to view Canadian imperialism as the principal enemy to their interests and the interests of their compatriots and family members back home. We must foster an understanding of Canadian imperialism that not only emphasizes its external projection into the oppressed countries, but the foundation of the imperialist social formation within Canada. Winning over petty-bourgeois immigrants in Canada to supporting the national liberation movements back home may be more difficult, since they may themselves hail from landlord, comprador, or bureaucrat capitalist classes back at home. But even some of these elements – if they experience a frustration of their class aspirations along with racism in Canada – can also be won over to anti-imperialist struggle.
Winning over the newly-migrated to confronting the Canadian state in Canada will be difficult in proportion to the class mobility they have undergone within Canada and the class mobility they believe is still within reach.
We must struggle against the ruse of multicultural nationalism that is targeted at new migrants, the sort of nationalism that over the last forty years has ideologically reinforced the feeling among immigrants that they should feel “grateful” to be in a country as great (and white!) as Canada. Multicultural nationalism obscures the fact that, despite the colonial powers that established Canada, at no stage was Canada ever a homogeneously white country beyond its ruling class. The lower strata of the proletariat have always been racialized with immigrants and displaced urban indigenous people. The feeling of lack of entitlement that many racialized immigrants and even racialized citizens feel in light of the white supremacist account of Canadian history (which is not a white history) is a strategy of the ruling classes for containing and neutralizing class struggle.
In struggling to break the influence of this sort of nationalism over new migrants, which is especially rampant amongst the more petty-bourgeois immigrants, we must identify and expose the crimes and injustices of the Canadian state and capital. We must expose the allure of assimilation for the pipe dream that it is by revealing the long history of the super-exploitation of immigrants that Canada is founded upon. We must oppose any cropping up of reactionary immigration policies that propose for newer immigrants and migrant workers lesser rights than those who preceded them. We must win over these “soft” anti-imperialists who still support the struggles of their compatriots back home to become full anti-imperialists within Canada – to confront Canadian imperialism in its headquarters.
It is worth reiterating that, although the above-named four categories of the “advanced masses” can be found cutting across the social classes, it is those from the most proletarian backgrounds – the most oppressed, exploited, and dispossessed – that we must build our Party amongst, since their lot cannot be improved under Canadian imperialism. The significance of the most oppressed and exploited mass leaders and activists, immigrants, and indigenous peoples for revolution are often downplayed, misunderstood, or ignored by many activist groups, “Marxist” organizations, and other opportunist and petty-bourgeois forces. Or worse, they are co-opted or used as tokens. The task of the proletarian revolutionary organization is to develop and elevate these elements to provide revolutionary leadership along class lines (and for indigenous peoples, revolutionary nationalist lines) to the masses they work and struggle with.
(2) What is the relationship between the Party and the masses?
Our understanding of the mass line and who we believe to constitute the advanced masses sets the basis for answering the question of how proletarian revolutionaries should be relating to the advanced masses. The mass line principle of leadership demonstrates that proletarian revolutionaries lead the masses principally not through organizational command but ideological influence and political example through the mass movement.
This is not to say that the proletarian revolutionary party should be kept from the masses, as a secret or network completely invisible to the people. It shouldn’t be promoted for its ideological, political, and organizational leadership. Perhaps this is the impression that some have of Revolutionary Initiative because of its lack of open and public propaganda up to this point in our development. While many of our members have not disclosed our organizational ties to RI over a period when our organization was smaller and more susceptible to enemy infiltration, surveillance, and disruption, this is not to say that we have kept our ideological, political, and organizational lines from the masses. Whether or not a more open exposure of RI amongst the masses would have been conducive to the long-term development of the proletarian revolutionary movement, our position remains the same that proletarian revolutionaries should relate to the masses through the mass line and as active participants in mass movement.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t relate to the masses as communists? Of course we should. And we should also be spreading “communist ideas” wherever we work. But the mass-lined communist ideas discussed above, not trite slogans or stale dogma. The burden of proof really falls upon us (as revolutionary communists) to demonstrate in practice and through struggle that only revolutionary communism paves the road to the resolution of the exploitation, oppression, precariousness, and insecurity that most of us face. To do this effectively, we must elaborate and enrich our general conceptions about Canadian history, society, and revolution through the particularity of the struggles we engage in, and upon that basis derive the strategy and tactics to actually advance class struggle. It is from the particularity of any given sector of the oppressed and exploited masses that we must make the case for socialism, revolution, and the rebuilding of a revolutionary communist party. None of this patient and protracted work can be leap-frogged by simply wearing Mao on the lapel or waving a party rag at the masses.
Such a burden of proof is not to be found in general platitudes or programmatic points – as necessary as these are to unite a revolutionary movement – but from the particularities of any given section of the proletariat. And it is immersed in the mass movement that proletarian revolutionaries will develop the sufficiently concrete analyses of concrete situations to advance the struggle.
Lest we be perceived as completely delusional – or worse, lumped in with the totalitarian mass killers that the bourgeoisie has the people thinking that we support – then we need to reinvent the communist struggle on the terrain of the current contradictions in Canadian society and in the current imperialist world system.
To do this, we believe that we need mass-based organizations in which proletarian revolutionaries can struggle alongside the broad masses – many of whom will not be immediately won over to a revolutionary party – to develop class analyses and correct strategy and tactics for class struggle. It’s our position that such mass organizations need to be truly democratic and truly independent, not mere Party fronts, be they open or secret. It’s baffling how difficult it is for some communists to wrap their head around the concept of a mass organization that is democratic and independent yet still under the leadership of proletarian revolutionaries; or an organization that is not communist, does not have a communist basis of unity, but in which revolutionary and even communist ideas can be engaged. This view is essentially identical to the view of anti-communists who label any organization in which ideas of class struggle can be democratically engaged as a communist or red organization. Yes, red in influence and orientation, perhaps. But nonetheless fully mass-democratic and independent in character. We revolutionary communists have no fear of debating our ideas openly in mass-democratic organizations. It’s for this reason that anti-communism organizational principles cannot tolerate mass-democratic organizational forms. This is why the purging of reds from the union movement from the 1940s onwards went hand-in-hand with the bureaucratization of the labour movement.
Because of the near absence of mass organizations independent of the ruling class in our society, a large part of our work must consist of building them. To build mass organizations independent from bourgeois hegemony is only one side of the proverbial coin of building proletarian hegemony. To be clear, a class struggle basis of unity is not a communist basis of unity. But it is a class struggle basis of unity, which we struggle to win over to the general political line of socialist revolution. Such spaces of mass struggle are spaces in which such debates can play out. Party fronts – some of which may be necessary – cannot fulfill this function because of the pretense of already being under the organizational leadership of a Party. We must struggle to win over the masses to the leadership of the Party, but this struggle cannot precede the actual class struggle, which is where revolutionary communists will win over the trust and confidence of the masses.
Communists should lead through ideology, not mere organizational mechanisms. The Communist Party exercises organizational leadership (via democratic centralism) only over its own members, not the masses.
If we are correct in our analysis of where the advanced masses are to be found in Canadian society, as well as in our estimation that the proportion of forces who can be immediately organized on a communist basis is quite small, then it follows that we must build mass organizations that line up with the contradictions of Canadian society. For all those who can be united immediately on a communist basis, let’s unite with them and integrate them with the tasks that our party-building organization has set for itself. But let’s not distance ourselves from the masses by working exclusively with these already-revolutionary elements, many of whom do not even hail from the oppressed and exploited sections of Canadian society, but rather petty-bourgeois or more class privileged backgrounds and who are radicalized through university campus politics.
We believe the general method of accumulation of revolutionary forces at the current phase of revolutionary struggle – regroupement – must come through mass movement building in and around the advanced masses identified above. We do not believe that the revolutionary Party can be rebuilt through the mere grouping together of the already-revolutionaries who are disconnected from the concrete struggles of the masses.
Proletarian revolutionaries should be immersing themselves amongst the people, struggling alongside them, helping clarify problems, and formulating correct class analyses, strategies and tactics for building people power and revolutionary struggle. In places where the people are facing desperate situations and their needs are being wholly ignored or unmet by bourgeois society, we should build serve the people programs to satisfy the needs of the people – be they material, cultural, or social – not in a social-service fashion, but as an infrastructural basis for advancing people’s power.
In places where the needs of the masses are being satisfied in the short-term but threatened in the long-run by the current offensive of imperialism – from “austerity” measures to the ongoing colonization of native lands – then we should focus less people’s immediate material needs and more on building political structures to resist and advance the struggle.
(3) Build the mass movement for proletarian hegemony
As important as the construction of the mass movement is for the development of the proletarian revolutionary vanguard, it should not be seen as a mere spring board for mass leaders and activists into the Party. Another reason for respecting the independence of the mass movement and its mass organizations is because it will be the basis for the proletarian hegemony that is needed to not only make revolution, but for the mass democratic administration of a socialist society. A vast array of people’s organizations must be constructed to build up the backbone of the proletarian revolution – a proletarian counter-hegemony that we will require to win the class war against the imperialist bourgeoisie. This is what ‘base-building’ and ‘red power’ consists of in the imperialist countries: the step by step, organization by organization, campaign by campaign, alliance by alliance, battle by battle upward-spiral accumulation of our forces, until we have built a mighty revolutionary Party, People’s Army, and United Front that has the strength to reverse the relation of forces between the proletariat and the imperialist bourgeoisie, make revolution, and consolidate socialism.
Up to this point, we have justified why we believe the work of proletarian revolutionaries should consist of building class-struggle mass organizations and developing the mass line amongst the advanced sections of the masses to advance the ideological, political, and organizational principles that will build class struggle. So when or how do party organization members actually relate to the most advanced and revolutionary elements as communists? When does the conversation get beyond the narrower confines of the mass work, or the more limited basis of unity of the mass organization or alliance in question? When can or should the question of the communist party and revolutionary struggle be raised?
There’s no clear-cut answer to this question, as it depends on a number of factors: What level of trust exists between you and the person in question? How prepared are they to engage in these specific questions? Are there more basic questions that have yet to be answered for the person in question before the question of revolution and communism can even be broached?
As a general principal, we believe that we should be practicing a maximum exposure amongst the masses, with a minimal exposure to the intelligence agents of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Limiting the ability of the latter to know our members and our operations means that we must be cautious about exposing the membership of Revolutionary Initiative beyond the revolutionary mass activists amongst whom we have developed trust.
But short of exposing our membership in RI, there’s nothing that stops proletarian revolutionaries from providing ideological leadership in the organizations that they participate in. Unlike many opportunist bureaucratic and authoritarian methods of “leadership” – such as those deployed by most Trotskyite organizations – we do not aspire to simply maneuver our comrades into the reigns of power in bourgeois institutions and other bourgeoisified institutions like today’s class collaborationist business unions. We seek to build mass struggles, mass organizations, and revolutionary alliances to break the hold of bourgeois institutions and build a proletarian counter-power. On this point, we find ourselves in unity with class struggle anarchists, though we are oppose the parochialism of syndicalism and “autonomism”.3 Aside from building red mass organizations, we must also struggle to democratize undemocratic, bureaucratized, and yellow mass organizations, such as the social democratic unions controlled by the labour aristocracy.
What it means to be a proletarian revolutionary in the mass movement is to advance the ideological, political, and organizational lines that advance class struggle and proletarian hegemony i.e. the hegemony of the proletariat over the masses that supplants and challenges the hegemony of the imperialist bourgeoisie to the point of rupture. Within any given section of the mass movement, we must develop an anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist basis and pro-socialist orientation that converges upon revolutionary struggle.
What gives coherence and strategic unity to what would otherwise be disparate movements that may find themselves in contradiction with one another is the proletarian revolutionary vanguard. So that instead of an immigrants struggle that makes demands on the Canadian state that further dispossess natives of their land, or a workers struggle that demands pro-imperialist “good jobs”, or an indigenous self-determination struggle that props up, legitimizes and leaves in tact (or simply transforms the character of) Canadian imperialism, we mobilize the struggles of all sections of the proletariat into a united front against imperialism.
At the beginning of this article, we cited the question of mass work to be a main point of division between Revolutionary Initiative and RCP-Canada. We would characterize RCP-Canada’s method of party building to be a method that relates the Party openly and directly to the masses. From what we can see, the RCP does its agitation and propaganda work openly through its Party fronts, its bookstore, its presence in rallies and courageous street-fighting and its direct distribution through Drapeau Rouge/Red Flag and the Partisan. We appreciate the role played by the RCP Canada in propagating many revolutionary points of analysis of Canadian society, in propagating the ideas of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and promoting proletarian internationalism. These methods have value and are necessary for the accumulation of revolutionary forces. But for all the reasons identified above, we do not find these methods to be sufficient for the accumulation of forces amongst the advanced masses. The RCP’s methods may bear more fruit for an organization whose centre of gravity is in Montreal and its surrounding regions, a part of the country where the militant milieu is far stronger than elsewhere. But even in Montreal, we’d question the ability to develop the Party beyond a certain section of the city’s militant milieu – such as, for instance, Montréal’s large immigrant working-class population.
The example of the historic student strike in Québec of 2012 – the longest running and largest student strike and protest movement in Canadian history – for example demonstrates the importance and significance for genuine, independent mass organization in building mass struggles. The militant student union CLASSE rebuilt the student movement in Québec on a more democratic and militant basis from the mid-2000s onwards to break with the treachery of social democrats and their bureaucratized unions. To be sure, CLASSE and the student strike were built and directed by revolutionaries and militants: anarchists, communists, left social democrats and left nationalists and other revolutionary-minded youth. But the strike would have never accumulated such a strong and sustained movement without the building of mass-democratic spaces wrested open in the colleges and universities that have rallied students to the defence of their immediate concerns, albeit on a lower basis of unity than revolution. But, as the twists and turns of mass struggle go, we have seen that what should have been an historically insignificant struggle based on a modest demand to block raised tuition fees has – through the intransigence of the provincial government, through its repressive measures, through police repression – leap-frogged into one of the world’s leading protest movements.
The mass organizations, the mass movement, and mass work proletarian revolutionaries engage in contribute not only to getting a revolutionary Party off the ground, but more fundamentally to the building of the broader revolutionary movement, dual power, and proletarian hegemony. The construction of dual power and proletarian hegemony is not a project that neatly follows Party construction, nor it is identical with it. It is a project that proceeds alongside it. While we will leave the question of dual power for other discussion documents, we would flag the point that the question of mass work must be figured into our overall revolutionary strategy. The RCP-Canada has been advocating for the development of a protracted people’s war in Canada. It is unclear to us however, based on their previous articulations, how one conceptualizes a protracted people’s war without the development of dual power and a mass movement; or even how a peoples war is possible without the mass-based proletarian counter-power to serve as the rear-guard for the revolutionary forces.
A protracted revolutionary struggle – including the forms of armed struggle that will be necessary to succeed – must be supported by the broad masses of people and it must pull them into the struggle in ever-expanding proportions. To do this outside of the purview of the Canadian state and its military-intelligence-policing apparatus, the revolutionary Party must be deeply embedded in the masses and their struggles.
In building the revolutionary movement in China, Mao warned comrades in the Communist Party not to isolate themselves from the people:
[T]o be vigilant and to see that no comrade at any post is divorced from the masses… [to] teach every comrade to love the people and listen attentively to the voice of the masses; to identify himself with the masses wherever he goes and, instead of standing above them, to immerse himself among them; and, according to their present level, to awaken them or raise their political consciousness and help them gradually to organize themselves voluntarily and to set going all essential struggles permitted by the internal and external circumstances of the given time and place.
“On Coalition Government” (April 24, 1945), Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 315-I6.
These are the methods of a genuine vanguard, the true leadership of the people.
If this process is undertaken in an erroneous fashion, marked by poor methods of social investigation or without sufficient integration with the masses, it will be lacking in its democratic character. Lacking in democracy, when the Party attempts to deploy its ideas to the masses, they may not resonate. If done properly, however, if the Party’s ideas are steeped in the struggles of the masses and correctly reflect their most advanced ideas, the masses will see the Party’s ideas as their own and will support it and join it.
An organization can coalesce and call itself a Party whenever it likes. But it will be the masses that will determine if this or that organization actually becomes ‘the Party’ of the revolutionary proletariat, its true vanguard in revolutionary struggle. To become this genuine proletarian revolutionary vanguard, even while we build a revolutionary Party that is distinct from the masses, the proletarian revolutionaries without that Party must be fully immersed within the oppressed and exploited masses, building people’s power and proletarian hegemony within it, and articulating the ideological, political, and organizational lines that converge with all sections of the proletariat upon proletarian revolution.
This, in short, is what we believe should be the mass work of proletarian revolutionaries.________________________________________________________ Footnote 1: We also have yet to arrive at a unified conception of revolutionary strategy. RCP-Canada upholds a form of protracted people’s war elaborated to the context of imperialist countries that our own organization has questioned, particularly the place of insurrection in this overall strategy. A substantial elaboration of their strategy has been long anticipated and we hope it is forthcoming. Therefore, we cannot say that we differ over strategy, but rather have not unified around a common conception. Footnote 2: We’re all familiar with the political boundaries that Canada claims and are recognized by international law. But internally, much of the land bounded by this border is not conquered or under the effective dominion of the Canadian state. These are the treaty lands or entirely unceded lands upon which indigenous people continue to fight and assert their right to self-determination against ongoing dispossession, plunder, and colonization. This is what is meant by “claimed but not conquered”. Footnote 3: “Autonomism” is a correct standpoint in relation to bourgeois power, what anarchists call “The State”; it is not correct, however, in relation to proletarian revolutionary power. Organs of popular power should not aspire to be “autonomous” from other organs of popular power, but rather interdependent, allied, and advancing together to defeat the enemy and build the new society. The problem is that anarchists generally don’t distinguish between the bourgeois state and the socialist state under proletarian hegemony; or if they do they see proletarian power as just another species of authoritarianism to be struggled against. The class basis of this anti-authoritarianism is the petty-bourgeoisie which sees its class ascendancy frustrated by the big imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand and by socialism and communism on the other.