The common theoretical programme

Dave Craig of the RDG replies to Open Polemic

If we are going to build a revolutionary democratic communist tendency - a third force alongside Militant Labour and the Socialist Workers Party - we need a draft revolutionary programme. Not any old programme, but one founded on the best scientific theory. At the very least it has to be superior to the programmes, implicit or explicit, of the other two (I leave aside here the question of the SLP).

We cannot build such a Tendency without revolutionary democrats taking up the ideological war against all aspects of anarcho-bureaucratic politics, whether in the guise of bureaucratic communism (‘Marxism-Leninism’) or anarcho-communism.

‘Open polemic’ is a great slogan for revolutionary democrats. Unfortunately these comrades also carry with them some of the historical legacy of anarcho-bureaucratic politics, signified by their adherence to ‘Marxism-Leninism’.

Programme question

Nobody will ever write the perfect programme. But we can serve the working class and communist movement and assist its self-development by creating the best programme with our given state of knowledge. At least it should improve on previous attempts. Can we draft a programme which is genuinely revolutionary and better than the British road to socialism or Labour to power on a socialist programme or the SWP’s Where We stand? Can we make any positive contribution to the question of a communist programme or are our ideas on this wrong or irrelevant? History will judge. Meanwhile our job is to make the best and most serious contribution we can.

Open Polemic has not set itself this target. It asks itself, ‘What are the needs of the tiny communist fragments?’ Its answer - because of the theoretical confusion amongst ‘Marxist-Leninists’, we need a common theoretical programme.

Theoretical programme

To critically examine what OP says, it is necessary to separate out what is correct and useful. But the first problem is to understand what it is saying. My interpretation is as follows: a revolutionary programme has both a theoretical part and a practical part - that is, a set of concrete demands.

The theoretical part of the programme should identify capitalism, the capitalist state, imperialism, the Russian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, socialism, communism, world revolution, the world Party and the present epoch.

The theoretical part of the programme should have universal relevance. It should be useful for all revolutionary democratic communists, whichever country they work in. Comrades from the UK, Iran or Australia should in principle be able to adhere to the same positions.

Practical and particular

A communist programme must also have a set of practical demands or policies which relate to the particular society in which the Party operates. Every communist programme from the Communist Manifesto contains such demands around which the Party fights.

The SWP shows up this problem. It made theoretical advances compared to the old CPGB. The Revolutionary Democratic Group (faction of the SWP) began to criticise the SWP because it had failed to develop its theoretical programme into a practical programme for the UK.

The consequence of having no practical programme was a tendency to spontaneity. Instead of fighting for its own revolutionary practical programme, the SWP adapted itself to whatever practical programme was thrown up spontaneously by this or that section of the class.

There can be no vanguard Party without a practical programme. Without a practical programme the Party will inevitably tail-end the movement. The RDG argument was for an extension of the SWP’s theoretical programme into a practical programme. Naturally we tried to do ourselves what we called on them to do. We developed our own draft.

Common theoretical programme

We can now criticise the slogan ‘Common theoretical programme for Marxist-Leninists’. First, the word ‘common’ could imply drafting a theoretical programme that could encompass revolutionary democrats and anarcho-bureaucrats. Do we want a draft to encompass everybody? For some the dictatorship of the proletariat means the dictatorship of the class, and for others the dictatorship of the party. The obvious danger is that ‘common’ comes to mean lowest common denominator. It would lead to opportunism.

Second, the call for a theoretical programme means that we should restrict ourselves to this alone. Such a view is a product of the crisis of Stalinism which has left its followers without a theoretical programme.

OP has failed to understand the uneven development of experience and consciousness in the communist movement. The RDG for example comes from the SWP, which already has a well worked out, theoretical programme, summarised in its ‘Where we stand column’.

If Open Polemic goes to the SWP and says the central task is not the development of a practical programme against spontaneity, but a theoretical programme, it will simply have adapted itself to SWP backwardness.

The demand that we restrict ourselves only to a theoretical programme is in danger of being objectively sectarian. It means foisting onto the movement the particular needs of our own part of the movement, without due regard to the programmatic needs of the movement as a whole.

We must start from the needs of the whole communist movement, not the needs of particular groups. The programme question is not about how the RDG or OP and a few others can get together, it is about the needs of a revolutionary class and the need for a Party.

We recognise that a revolutionary democratic communist tendency needs a theoretical programme. But it also needs a practical programme. Therefore we reject OP’s narrow interpretation of the programme and its dismissing all who don’t accept their dictat as ‘vanguardists’.


A third point of disagreement concerns drafting a common theoretical programme for ‘Marxist-Leninists’. Since we are not Marxist-Leninists this cuts us out straight away. We base ourselves on the science of revolutionary democratic communism, not the ideology of ‘Marxism-Leninism’. We want a party built on a scientific method, not on the ideological cult of this or that Great Leader.

Most people understand that the term ‘Marxist-Leninism’ is in fact a polite name for Stalinism. The cult of Stalin was legitimised by claiming adherence to the cult of ‘Marxism-Leninism’.

In a recent letter in the Weekly Worker, Tony Clark of Partisan confirms this point. He says: “We too are interested in which direction the CPGB is moving: in the direction of Marxism-Leninism, or towards Trotskyism ... For Trotskyism, the Stalin purges were the act of a conservative Soviet bureaucracy defending itself from the revolution and the masses. For us and other Marxist-Leninists, the Stalin purges were the act of the revolution defending itself.”

We have to agree with comrade Clark that ‘Marxism-Leninism versus Trotskyism’ is in fact Stalinism versus Trotskyism.

We are faced with a choice. Either we can ‘clean up’ the term ‘Marxism-Leninism’, reclaiming it from the Stalinists. Or we should ditch it altogether.


When the RDG said we are not Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Engelsites, Luxemburgists, or Shibdas Ghoshites, many comrades were stunned. Perhaps they expected that without a god the sky would fall in on us. Well we did swear in the communist church and live to tell the tale. We are just as committed to the science of communism as before.

All communists assess the historical leaders of our movement and give different weight to this or that leader. But we are engaged in a scientific project, not a beauty contest.

If OP was really committed to a multanimous party, it would at least argue for a party based on Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist- Luxemburgism, etc, etc. To me that is an absurd concept. But it is at least consistently multanimous. If OP is serious about a multanimous party then it either has to be called a Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist, etc party or this kind of cultist terminology has to be ditched.

The term, revolutionary democratic communist, is both scientific and multanimous. Neither is it a comfortable term for unreconstructed Stalinists for whom the thought of revolutionary working class democracy makes them want to vomit.

Leader Centralism

What is leader centralism? My version is bureaucratic centralist organisation, combined with the ideological cult of the personality. The old WRP was, on this definition, a leader centralist organisation. A bureaucratic centralist internal regime was built around the ideology of ‘Trotskyism’ and ‘Healyism’. Since OP bases itself on ‘Marxist-Leninism’, this indicates that it has not broken fully with leader centralism.


OP is hostile to “vanguardism” and “vanguardist organisations”. This is to turn the world upside down. The real problem in the communist movement is ‘rearguardism’ - the programmatic bankruptcy and confusion which is holding the movement back. It may well be that the assorted ‘rearguards’ have proclaimed themselves to be ‘vanguards’. But we should not let that confuse us.

If OP is serious, it should tell us concretely which organisations have proclaimed themselves ‘the vanguard’. Do not casually slander all and sundry. Name names. Give us the facts. Then tell us who you think are the rearguards and who are the vanguards. Then we could have a real discussion.

What OP is doing is dabbling in anarchism. OP speaks about vanguardism in exactly the same way that anarchists speak of leadership. All leadership is wrong per se. The anarchists are against it. Next minute under the guise of anti-leadership the anarchists are providing us with their own brand of leadership. Rotten leadership.

Now OP is against all vanguard organisations. Next minute OP is offering its own vanguard slogans, that the way forward is through “a common theoretical programme for Marxist-Leninists”. I don’t condemn OP or dismiss it for trying to point the way forward. That is its job. My concern is whether it is leading us in the right direction or holding us back.

To conclude, the idea of a common theoretical programme could be an opportunist or a sectarian formulation of our tasks. OP’s labelling of all and sundry as ‘vanguardists’ is sectarian, based on general prejudice, not on concrete scientific analysis. It is anarchist in its conception. In its worship of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ OP exhibits not only its historical roots in Stalinism, but indicates that it has not fully broken with the personality cults of leader centralism. Neither has OP seen the contradiction between a multanimous party and a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ party.