In times of struggle, there are always defectors and dropouts. No matter how vital a struggle is, no matter how crucial to the very survival and well-being of a people, there are always those who throw up their hands and surrender, who say “I’ve had enough” and either cease all activity on behalf of their cause or actively aid its enemies. Even when it was abundantly clear that forces like the Wehrmacht were intent on the complete annihilation of entire nations and peoples, there were those who gave up or, worse, actively served the cause of fascism. Even today there are such cases of resignation or betrayal. How can this be? What is it that can turn once-revolutionary activists and organizations — even entire parties and governments — away from class struggle and into the arms of their exploiters? The answers can vary from situation to situation, but ultimately, it is a result of someone taking the easy way out.
Class Struggle Was Never Easy
Ever since the dawn of civilization, since early humans learned to till soil and harvest crops, struggle has ensued over the distribution of these resources. Those who claimed ownership over the land built themselves up into an ownership class, compelling those outside of their class to work the land and produce for their needs with the threat of violence. This struggle has never been, nor ever will be, easy. Anyone who takes up the cause of the laboring masses must inevitably face an enemy that is powerful, entrenched, masterfully manipulative and utterly ruthless in their desire to gain and keep power. Every battle is done uphill; often with limited numbers and resources. This is the essential reality of revolution. It is something that every revolutionary and activist must keep in mind.
Throughout history, there have been many to dedicate themselves to this cause, and despite great hardships and grave circumstances, never flinched in the face of class struggle. In addition to the bravery and selflessness of such revolutionaries, there have been those who began strong, only to cave into the forces of reaction. Some were bought, others fled, and still there were those who maintained the pretense of being a revolutionary while actively or passively aiding the cause of counterrevolution. For those revolutionaries who were once sincere, who were not infiltrators, reactionaries and other agents of capital from the get-go, their slide into the counterrevolutionary camp has been characterized by forgetting the class-struggle in their actions and understandings. When the going gets tough, some choose compromise over confrontation, retreat over resistance. This can happen at any level, on any field, regardless of the experience of the revolutionaries involved. Many excuses are given, but the fundamental cause is this: someone is making the choice to forget class struggle.
Opportunism, Reformism and the “Path of Least Resistance”
Forgetting the class struggle is easily done. All one needs to do is to substitute anti-materialist, anti-revolutionary ideas and actions for their revolutionary counterparts. The Second International did this when they went from a principled position of resisting the involvement of their countries in the First World War to supporting their national bourgeoisie in the conflict. The CPUSA did this when they turned away from revolutionary politics and became a wing of the Democratic Party. In another example, Bill Ayers went from being an adventurist radical to becoming a reformist while his comrades (lacking the privilege of his background) ended up in prison. In all of these cases, so-called “communists” put their individual needs and desires above the essential need for class-struggle. As a result, they betrayed the proletariat, surrendered their title as revolutionaries and helped reinforce the hegemony of the bourgeoisie.
The crimes of the “revolutionary” counter-revolutionaries are opportunism, reformism and otherwise taking “the path of least resistance.” Opportunism generally amounts to taking actions and stances which put the needs of individuals above the needs of revolution. This can either be to advance the position of one person or group, or otherwise to protect such a group from criticism and discomfort by making excuses, at the expense of revolutionary action or discourse. Factionalism, sectarianism, careerism and individualism represent manifestations of the first kind of opportunism. The second kind manifests itself in pacifism, reformism and the adopting of tactics and positions which do nothing to advance the cause of revolution and everything to aid the enemy in their battle against revolution.
Both sets of errors serve to pit revolutionary against revolutionary in a manner which challenges the broader needs for revolution in favor of the aspirations and desires of a minority. They represent a serious breach in the central method for the conduct of revolutionary discourse and action, and threaten the very movement itself. It is for this reason that such elements have been (and will continue to be) purged from the revolutionary parties that uphold the theory of Marxism-Leninism. Opportunism is a cancer for the movement that needs to be obliterated in its entirety if revolution is to succeed.
Deviation in Theory Leads to Deviation in Struggle
Those who would pigeon-hole the cause of revolution often use pseudo “Marxist” justifications for their treachery. Some will claim that revolution is impossible under the current conditions. Others will insist that reformist paths need to be taken in order for the conditions for revolution can be created, or otherwise argue that a reformist path actually constitutes revolution. In a third case, theoretical arguments can be made for unprincipled alliances with the bourgeoisie and other agents of counterrevolution. One needs only to reflect on the Theory of Three Worlds that Mao used to justify his partnership with Nixon and Kissinger against the revisionist Soviet Union, or the theory of productive forces that the parties of the Second International used to justify nationalism and inaction in the face of imperialist war.
This is why sound theory is needed. Good theory, which follows materialist dialectics and serves to preserve the class-struggle in the minds and actions of cadres, is an essential tool to keeping revolution alive and on track. Bad theory brings would-be revolutionaries to the brink. It gives ammunition to the enemy, and depletes the arsenal of the revolutionary proletariat in their struggle against exploitation. It has assisted in the sabotage of revolutionary states and the reinforcement of reactionary ideology in the minds of workers.
The Revolutionary Imperative: Stand Defiant!
The true revolutionary must resist all such efforts at forgetting the class struggle. In order to ensure the vitality and success of revolution, the revolutionary activist must be mindful of theory, wary of opportunism and stalwart in their revolutionary convictions. We must not surrender our ideological, political and practical tools for making revolution, no matter what challenges we face. To do so is to be a saboteur, to work counter to the advancement of all working peoples. The revolutionary must not be afraid of the challenges to come, and must certainly not be afraid of confronting the mistaken ideas and actions of his comrades in the struggle.
To be timid in the face of betrayal is a betrayal in and of itself. To overlook and ignore the mistaken ideas of individual cadres and organizations is to forget that criticism is a key aspect of Leninist struggle. Even though it may make us unpopular among some, we have to challenge what is wrong in the ideas, perceptions and actions of those we work with in this fight. No one is immune to mistaken ideas. We are born into a world in which the ruling ideas are those that serve reaction and capitalism. We are socialized to see the reactionary as normal, to prefer those modes of resistance which are least effective, and to prioritize our own comfort and biases above those of others. To pretend we are incapable of being influenced by the prevailing ideological current is to pretend that one can swim without getting wet. Rather, we must climb out of the muck, wash ourselves of it as best we can and not take it personally when our comrades tell us that we’ve “missed a spot.” The fight against reaction, in ourselves and in our comrades, is a battle that must be waged every day by revolutionary activists.
Conclusion: What Every Revolutionary Must Remember
For those who feel unsure in their convictions, who are influenced by the yammering of anti-communists and other apologists for imperialism, there are some things you need to keep in mind:
- Capitalism is genocide by its very design; it requires conditions that leave much of the world in the direst poverty and deprivation to advance its profit ends.
- Revolution is the only solution. All other solutions are incapable of challenging the entrenched power of the bourgeoisie and those who serve as their agents.
- You are doing the right thing in upholding the cause of revolution. No matter what lies are asserted, what defeatism is preached, yours is the struggle that will break the chains shackling the workers of the world.
- You are never alone. Even when others give up, there will always be those willing to pick up revolution’s banner and march forward.
Keep these vital truths alive in your mind, and let your understanding of these truths guide you in your actions and stances. We don’t have the luxury of being able to quit when the going gets tough. Rather, when it comes to making revolution, we must “choose not to have a choice” and throw ourselves into the fray, knowing full-well what dangers lurk there and venturing forth despite them all. This is the only way to challenge and defeat the horrors of capitalism.