Marxism and mass action: Strategies for the struggle ahead

Members of the LGBTQ+ community marched on the White House in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on June 13, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Sam Marcy, a leading Marxist thinker and fighter of the second half of the 20th century, died 25 years ago on Feb. 1, 1998. To mark the occasion, Struggle-La Lucha is publishing a selection of Marcy’s articles that demonstrate the breadth and depth of his analysis and strategic thought on behalf of the workers and oppressed, while also providing insight into today’s struggles.

Dec. 15, 1994 — The movement of the working class originated more than 150 years ago. We are the inheritors of not only the ideology but also the traditions of revolutionary Marxism.

Our basic aim since the formation of the party has been to resuscitate, revive and continue under new conditions the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

In this historic struggle for socialism, there have been two great and undeviating tendencies. They become evident, in one form or another, in every continent and every country.

This struggle is over what tactics and strategy to employ. In Europe, one tendency in the socialist movement was led by Auguste Blanqui in France. The other was carried out later and with great success by Karl Marx.

The proletarian movement has to review its historical heritage and go back to its roots to understand the complexities of modern imperialism.

There are new forms of colonialism, a new rise of all sorts of oppression under capitalism, and a growing inevitability of imperialist conflicts, not only against the proletariat and oppressed peoples, but also among themselves.

Theory and action

Blanqui, unlike Marx, believed it wasn’t necessary to theorize. Theoretical conceptions are fine, he said, but are not the motor force of the struggle. He stood for action — not by the masses but by a small group of knowledgeable, dedicated and revolutionary leaders intent on overthrowing the capitalist system.

His view was that all the workers’ struggles, some of which Marx had already explained and written about, ended up in failure because of the leadership’s lack of determination and ability to master the art of conspiracy against the capitalist class.

The masses are great, he said, but need leaders. Sometimes what has to be done to overturn the capitalist class need not necessarily be explained to the masses. Small groups of dedicated and revolutionary leaders must be educated and prepared; and it is they who, by their vision and ability, will overturn the capitalist system.

This view is sometimes popularly known as “getting a few good men together” — never even thinking of mentioning women. The view may sound archaic, but nevertheless, it has prevailed for a long time. Think of the many coups d’etat of both a progressive and reactionary character that have taken place in our epoch.

But even progressive coups, with all their fervor, their dedication, have been unable to overturn the capitalist system in any modern capitalist country.

Blanqui would have been regarded as ridiculous were he not such a capable organizer. His “man of action” became a symbol for struggle rather than for prayer or theorizing.

Lenin on Blanqui

It was in the struggle between Marxism and Blanquism that Bolshevism was born. The old socialist movement had completely discarded any aspect of Blanqui’s teaching on organizing smaller groups or differentiating between the great mass of the people and the more educated, developed smaller groups.

In the old socialist and working-class parties in Europe, there was no clear-cut difference between the leadership and the masses. The leaders were selected from the masses. Blanqui’s view was that it was a task of the small group not only to give leadership but to do it with firmness, not to hesitate.

Blanquism was the theory of readiness, the vision of overthrowing capitalism not by legal or electoral means but by conspiracy.

Any number of conspiracies took place in old Europe. They overturned this or that government. But they didn’t overturn the system.

Marxism had to take from Blanquism everything that was progressive and necessary and discard what was not useful. At the same time, it had to discard what was old and inapplicable in the old socialist movement.

This was the task of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. They took the theoretical basis of Marxism and used it to educate the masses on the necessity for insurrection.

Before Lenin, insurrection was not regarded by the socialist movement as either necessary or desirable. The social-democratic parties were dependent exclusively on the electoral process.

Blanquism has to be distinguished from the old utopian movement, which was also fervently for socialism and for the masses — but had no vision of how it could be won, except by convincing the individual capitalists of the need to discard the system of capitalist oppression and institute the socialist system.

The ideas of the old utopian socialists were not practical. The ideas of Blanquism were more attractive to the young. But at the same time they could not overturn the capitalist system.

We have to bring this up because of the way the modern capitalist system is developing at this time.

What’s next in the U.S.?

In the modern-day U.S., what prevails is not the ideology of Blanqui or of Marx, but outright bourgeois ideology.

But the system is rapidly coming to a point of great crisis, and it is necessary for us to review our heritage to understand the forthcoming period. It is necessary not merely to anticipate a revolutionary struggle but to prepare for it.

In Marx’s time, and even in Lenin’s, the trade unions were considered the fundamental organ whereby the working class could organize itself. But the intervention of the world war showed that the slow process of winning the allegiance of the working class was illusory.

No matter how dedicated or strong, a party like the German Social Democratic party would fail in the end, unless it had a revolutionary perspective of overthrowing the capitalist system, not hesitating to use force and violence when that became necessary. That aspect was not well understood by the other European parties in Lenin’s time — only after the October Revolution in Russia.

Today, many of the ideas proposed to solve capitalism’s ills sound utopian in the old sense. They cannot overcome the system.

It is quite likely that as soon as a struggle breaks out, it will produce a modern version of Blanquism, not only among the youth but in major organizations of the working class. One must consider the devastating and annihilating violence the state could conduct against the working class, and most often against Black and Latino and other oppressed nationalities.

Our movement has to go back somewhat to an earlier epoch in order to understand what is developing in capitalist society today. We are witnessing a slow and gradual development. It seems that the revolutionary struggle is distant.

But we know that a capitalist crisis, especially a severe one, immediately brings into being dozens of organizations with the most fantastic ideas on how to undo the capitalist crisis. Some lead to attempting a violent overthrow without the necessary preparation of the working class as the principal instrument for overcoming capitalist exploitation.

In the coming struggle, we would have to pay attention to a possible Blanquist variant. But we would not be able to influence it unless our party itself is most vigorous, most relentless and most uncompromising in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism, of which, of course, racism is such a fundamental aspect.

We have to prepare ourselves not only in the sense of gathering more forces but seeing what the future may hold ideologically. Our party has to restudy the basic classics of Marxism and go back to the theory and tactics that Lenin employed.

What to do next

The art of revolutionary politics is knowing what to do next. It is okay to theorize about fascism or the strength of the right-wing. But our organization differs from a debating society. We must take a firm, indeed revolutionary, stance.

We are faced with the growing prospect of right-wing conspiracy on the part of big business and multinational corporations. They have taken the first step. This Rep. Newt Gingrich is a representative of it, and there are others — but that’s not the main thing.

Individuals can change, but the ruling class’s trend is toward repression, solidifying in the most undemocratic way possible its control over the resources of the country and indeed of the globe. U.S. imperialism is on the march everywhere. The devastating results fall on the backs of the workers at home as well.

What do we do? We know the right wing is moving, and that there is only a thin difference between the right and the ultra-right.

One of the great lessons of the 1930s was Leon Trotsky’s writings on the question of how to fight fascism. He stressed how important it is not to overlook what is happening, how it is possible to lose the historic moment and allow the ruling class to be victorious.

He delineated in a dramatic and readable way the steps that led to the victory of fascism in Germany.

In the U.S. at that time, there were only the beginnings of fascist groupings. No sooner did the wave of reaction sweeping Europe reach these shores than the great sit-down strikes among the workers wiped them out completely.

They were never able to get a foothold among the workers. The myriad of small fascist groups were washed away by the upsurge of the working class.

That is the surest way to end any fascist attempt to establish itself as a political force over the working class.

There’s been no experience here with fascism on a mass scale. So we are basically looking at a theoretical and ideological discussion.

Our task is not to wait until things happen, in which case you can be absolutely sure the liberal bourgeoisie as well as certain sections of the big bourgeoisie will get into it. Right now, the working class is either indifferent or apathetic in this great struggle.

The possibility for the growth of neofascism, if you can call it that, and for political reaction generally is in the soil because monopoly is growing. The contradiction between the forms of capitalist production and the forms of capitalist distribution grows wider and wider.

The struggle among the imperialist nations grows sharper. There is no tendency toward political equilibrium there.

None of the small countries that were actual colonies and became independent has shown any move toward economic independence. They would like to do it but cannot because of the monstrous growth and position of the big banks and corporations over the entire planet.

It is impossible for a small country to attain complete independence and at the same time grow economically strong and powerful. Not even Cuba can do that. We are all happy at the way it has conducted itself and won a position in world affairs and at home, but it is at great economic cost. Trying to get out of it little by little is difficult.

Cuba should be able to look toward an emancipated working class in the U.S. to help it. That’s our job.

Opportunity for a mass struggle

The right wing is on the march in the United States. But we now have a golden opportunity to intervene in the capitalist political process in a way we never have before.

We can become the most formidable representatives of the working class in the struggle against political reaction, if we build beginning with what we have.

A whole world of struggle awaits us. The false opposition, the false messiahs of struggle who are actually capitulators, are not yet on the scene. We have a clear road.

We are on the right path if we undertake a genuine, broad national opposition to the right wing and political reaction in general. It doesn’t mean we leave the liberals off the hook. It doesn’t mean we concentrate only on Gingrich or the others. It means we intensify our theoretical and political work.

We need to show where this country is moving, where the capitalist class is leading it, what the tendencies in it are, what the dangers are. We need an outpouring of the workers and oppressed masses. We need to prepare for that.

And we’re in better shape because the liberal bourgeoisie is asleep and afraid. A part of it becomes ultra-militant and revolutionary after we start doing things, but for the time being they are asleep.

We need to organize ourselves and make this the top priority in the organization and for our party.

We cannot start a serious campaign in the struggle against the far right without funds. We need full-time organizers, foot soldiers who can leave their jobs and go places and do things. The struggle can only come as a result of deeper self-sacrifice. The party needs a fighting fund of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We have to expand before the storm comes. Our own resources are relatively small but will grow as the struggle widens and deepens.

We can go to the masses and promote tremendous activity to challenge the capitalist class. We needn’t be fearful about going beyond the legal limits that the bourgeoisie constrains us to. On a picket line you never know when you’re going to get arrested, but you don’t say, “Don’t have the picket line.” That kind of talk leads to failure.

We are taking on the greatest capitalist enemy. They have a president but they are having second thoughts about him.

Clinton isn’t any different than earlier Democratic presidents. What is different is the situation of the bourgeoisie. They push one right-wing economic and political measure after another. And he is not a president to resist.

Should a capitalist economic crisis break out, it would accentuate the political crisis. If it catches us by surprise and we do not have an apparatus out in the field, then our hopes for building a strong and revolutionary organization will be considerably diminished until the next opportunity comes.

In the 1930s, the Communist Party and other organizations were very conscious of the growth of fascism. But to a large extent they were trying to win the big bourgeoisie to support the struggle against it.

There is nothing wrong with asking them to support the struggle against fascism, but it’s another thing to expect it from them. We have to explain this to the most oppressed and persecuted people, in the Black and Native and Latino districts. Fascism should not be an after-dinner conversation with bourgeois liberals.

The struggle against the far right and the struggle against racism are intimately interlocked.

We have to get our paper and our literature into the hands of thousands of workers. And to do that we need organizers.

We have to counteract the inroads of the capitalist monopolies. We have to support strikes and fight lockouts by employers. We have to redouble our activities on all fronts.

Marxism is as Marxism does. It is not merely an exposition of the tendencies in capitalist society that inevitably lead it to destruction. It is also a means for arming the workers and oppressed people on how to proceed in the next period.

Are we mainly directing our attention to the program of the right-wing Republicans? No. We shouldn’t leave the other Republicans and the Democrats off the hook.

To make it very clear, our struggle against the right wing is an extension of our general program and not some new development on our part. We are going to conduct a revolutionary and working-class struggle in the way we have conducted them before, with greater emphasis on developing an initiative in the struggle against the right wing and the neo-fascist tendencies that may spring up now and then.

Source: Marxists Internet Archive

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