From Labor Up-Front: In the people’s fight against the crisis (page 94)

By Gus Hall

Main Weakness-Sectarianism

…for the present period the nature of the main weakness that holds us back from measuring up can be characterized as sectarianism-a deficiency that comes in many varieties-Left and Right.

The deficiency derives from both a lack of appreciation of the level and the scope of the mass trends and a lack of understanding of the new features of the mainstream and the Left current, as well as from not understanding or fully appreciating the unique and necessary contributions we Communists can and must make to these movements. So the deficiency is both an underestimation of the mass upsurge and the Party’s role in it.

When masses are not in motion, when the waves of struggle are at ebbtide, it is necessary to pursue policies and tactics that sometimes go sharply against the stream-tactics and policies of an opposition, policies that one could call sectarian, as Karl Marx once did. We have experienced such periods. This, however, is not one of those periods. In a period of high tide such policies and tactics turn into their very opposite. They do not lead. They tail events.

The struggle against sectarianism requires the conscious and consistent, never-ending seeking out and nurturing of allies, especially allies who are ready to work with us as Communists.

One of the very important features of this period, as I indicated previously, is that the number of such people on the Left is growing very fast. Increasingly such people are seeking us out and expressing the desire to consult with us. These are people who will and do disagree with us on some questions. They may be ready to work with us in only one or two areas. They will have ideological flaws of many kinds. They may have had, and may still express, anti-Party concepts and slanders. But the real truth is that if we cannot work with such people, then who the hell can we work with. The fact is that if we cannot work with such people we are not going to work with anyone-except ourselves.

In mass work, the words “working with and giving leadership to” are a very important concept. If we do not practice this concept, if we do not respect the independent character of the mass movements, we can never win their respect for our leadership. Even in mass organizations in which Communists are in leading positions they cannot be viewed or characterized as “our movements.” Only the Party is ours.
Our relationship with mass organizations and movements must be shaped by the fact that we are not out to “take over,” or to dominate administratively, because it does not serve any useful purpose. Communists must be the very best of team players. The push for Communists to run for elective office, whether in a trade union or in an ad hoc committee, must come from one’s co-workers. It must be earned.

Of course there are times when differences must be discussed. But we must always remember who is the main enemy. We must be careful in our judgments. We must always use the explanatory tone. We must always take into account the sum total of facts before resorting to criticism. We must continue to master the art of discussing-not debating or arguing-while working together as allies and friends.

We must put subjective and personal feelings on the back burner. They must not be permitted to become obstacles to working with people who may sometimes irritate us. We must always meet people more than halfway in order to win them, to convince people that it is possible, necessary and even enjoyable to work with us, even if we do not agree on everything. We must never assume that we are always right.

We must not follow the petty-bourgeois Maoist line of treating all who are not one hundred percent with us as being one hundred percent against us. We simply must not tolerate such attitudes.

In this context, for example, a policy of building only Left unity in a period when Center forces are in motion is sectarianism. Left unity is a very important concept. And in the context of building Left-Center unity it is a necessary concept. But a Left unity that rejects working with the Center forces is sectarian.
Experience in united front struggles shows that differences are lessened if the Party carries on independent propaganda on issues on which there are differences. Thus, Party propaganda in the form of leaflets, pamphlets and lectures is most necessary and very helpful in our united front work, especially if our materials are explanatory and convincing.

United front, wrote Lenin, is a method of mobilizing working people who either have no special or specific philosophy but who are for democracy, or people who are under the influence of reformist, revisionists or opportunists.

On the united front, Lenin said:

The purpose and sense of the tactics of the united front consist in drawing more and more masses of the workers into the struggle against capital, even if it means making repeated offers to the leaders of the Second and Second-and-a-half Internationals. (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 42, p. 411)

At a recent Conference of Communist and Workers Parties (Moscow, 1969) the resolution stated:

Communists should not regard everyone who is critical of the Soviet Union or the Communist Party, or who differ on one or another issue as being anti-Communist and who must be fought and rejected as far as the united front is concerned.

In this period, when the Party is pursuing a mass policy and when the members are involved in mass movements, there are of course other kinds of problems that emerge that are of a Right-opportunist nature.

When involved in mass movements there are always pressures for Communists to act and even talk like just good old plain progressives, to talk like good anti-monopoly fighter, like good democrats, like good trade unionists, like good national liberation fighters, like good old liberals.

Now there is nothing wrong with talking and acting like good trade unionists or progressives. It becomes a weakness if our activities are limited to that level. (emphasis is admins) We have more to say about reforms than reformists do. For us tactics are related to strategic objectives. Our exposes are not limited to the boss or the corporation. We expose them as links in the system.

Some who work on the level of reformists continue to go to club meetings, read our press and quote Marxist classics. But the fact is that very often the opportunism begins to corrode the ideological and political innards. Such comrades will begin to lose their class and socialist consciousness, and in time slip into a fantasy world where they think they can get along as well and even better outside the Party. This of course is opportunism and it is also liquidating the Party.

There are warning signs of this weakness. When comrades work in mass organizations and movements and never get a subscription to the Daily World, People’s World or to Political Affairs, never recruit a new member-that is a warning signal that such comrades need help. They need political and ideological help. We cannot accept as natural that a comrade works in a shop, is a member of a trade union or a mass organization for 15, 20 and even 25 years and never recruits enough to start a club of the Communist Party. Some retire without ever recruiting anyone.

Such comrades were good old trade unionists, or good old democrats and democratic fighters for all those years, but they did not live and work as Communists-ideologically, politically or personally.
We must be clear that although working with mass movements may lead to problems of Right opportunism, that must never be permitted to become a conscious or unconscious excuse for not pursuing a mass policy, for not being involved in mass struggles. That would be like deciding not to plant a garden because you may have problems with opportunistic bugs and worms.