SMALL DIFFERENCES CAN LEAD TO BIG DISAGREEMENTS
Lenin wrote that:
“Everyone knows that big disagreements sometimes grow out of minute
differences, which may at first appear to be altogether insignificant. A slight cut or
scratch, of the kind everyone has had scores of in the course of his life, may become
very dangerous and even fatal if it festers and if blood poisoning sets
in. This may happen in any kind of conflict, even a purely personal one. This also
happens in politics.
“Any difference, even an insignificant one, may become politically dangerous if it has a chance to grow into a split, and I mean the kind of split that will shake and destroy the whole political edifice, or lead, to use Comrade Bukharin’s simile, to a crash.
“Clearly, in a country under the dictatorship of the proletariat, a split in the ranks of the proletariat, or between the proletarian party and the mass of the proletariat, is not just dangerous; it is extremely dangerous, especially when the proletariat constitutes a small minority of the population. And splits in the trade union movement ... mean precisely splits in the mass of the proletariat.”
—Lenin, “Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin” (Jan. 25, 1921), LCW 32:75.
Lenin is entirely right about this, and it is not just under the dictatorship of the
proletariat that this problem exists. The need for organizational unity and the avoidance
of splitting, especially over very small differences which get blown completely out of all
proportion, is perhaps even more important for new and small revolutionary political circles,
organizations and parties which are struggling to get established and make contact with the
Of course if there really are disagreements over the most basic principles (such as the very need for revolution), then a split is almost inevitable at some point. But the common individualistic tendency is to imagine, or try to magnify, even the tiniest of essentially inconsequential differences into the most central and profound disagreement over basic principles: “I am right, therefore you must be wrong. If I cannot quickly convince you of this fact, then it must be because you are in fundamental opposition to my revolutionary point of view.” Egad!
Why are people, especially young revolutionaries from a student background, so prone to thinking like this? It is part and parcel of the petty-bourgeois individualism that is so widespread within comtemporary capitalist society, even among students from working class families. And it is a reflection of the pervasive intellectual myopic arrogance that is so typical of modern bourgeois society.
We each have a right to all our own opinions, on matters big or small, but we have no right to insist that everyone else agree with us about every single one of those opinions! Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties have developed the organizational rules of democratic centralism precisely to allow people to work together toward the goal of revolution even when they do not agree about absolutely everything else, including about how precisely we should go about making revolution. (It is, however, not at all surprising to find that in this society even many people who call themseleves Marxists or Maoists do not at all understand that this is the central reason why we need democratic centralism.)
The essential point of democratic centralism is to have a method for determining and implementing a collective course of action based on one particular idea from among the many ideas that exist within our own revolutionary group or from the broader masses. But our comrades have the right, and even the responsibility, to continue to hold to their own individual views about this—no matter how much they conflict with the line and methods chosen by the group. Only if reasoned arguments, or social developments, cause them to reconsider should they change their minds. It is absolutely wrong, horribly undemocratic, and even counter-productive from the point of view of advancing revolution, to insist that comrades change their minds until then.
Mao put it strongly, and repeated it over and over: “Unite, Don’t Split!” And especially don’t let little disagreements over what are really very small issues get blown out of proportion and lead to political disunity and splits.
If we say we are unable to work together toward revolution despite some inevitable small differences of opinion on various issues, then we are actually saying, no matter what we think we are saying, that we are unable to effectively work toward revolution at all. We should bend over backwards to not permit the inevitable small differences among us to be magnified to the point where it is no longer possible to work together toward revolution!
SMALL FORCES LINKED TO MASSES CAN DEFEAT BIG FORCES
“Everything is subject to change. The big decadent forces will give
way to the small new-born forces. The small forces will change into big forces because
the majority of the people demand this change....
“In my own lifetime I myself have witnessed such changes. Some of us present were born in the Ching Dynasty and others after the 1911 Revolution.
“The Ching Dynasty was overthrown long ago. By whom? By the party led by Sun Yat-sen, together with the people. Sun Yat-sen’s forces were so small that the Ching officials didn’t take him seriously. He led many uprisings which failed each time. In the end, however, it was Sun Yat-sen who brought down the Ching Dynasty. Bigness is nothing to be afraid of. The big will be overthrown by the small. The small will become big. After overthrowing the Ching Dynasty, Sun Yat-sen met with defeat. For he failed to satisfy the demands of the people, such as their demands for land and for opposition to imperialism. Nor did he understand the necessity of suppressing the counter-revolutionaries who were then moving about freely. Later, he suffered defeat at the hands of Yuan Shih-kai, the chieftain of the Northern warlords. Yuan Shih-kai’s forces were larger than Sun Yat-sen’s. But here again this law operated: small forces linked with the people become strong, while big forces opposed to the people become weak. Subsequently Sun Yat-sen’s bourgeois-democratic revolutionaries co-operated with us Communists and together we defeated the warlord set-up left behind by Yuan Shih-kai.
“Chiang Kai-shek’s rule in China was recognized by the governments of all countries and lasted twenty-two years, and his forces were the biggest. Our forces were small, fifty thousand Party members at first but only a few thousand after counter-revolutionary suppressions. The enemy made trouble everywhere. Again this law operated: the big and strong end up in defeat because they are divorced from the people, whereas the small and weak emerge victorious because they are linked with the people and work in their interest. That’s how things turned out in the end....
“History as a whole, the history of class society for thousands of years, has proved this point: the strong must give way to the weak. This holds true for the Americas as well.”
—Mao, “U.S. Imperialism is a Paper Tiger” (July 14, 1956), MSW 5:308-310. [In this same famous interview Mao provides further elaboration on the point and mentions other examples as well, such as the originally small anti-Japanese forces eventually defeating the large forces of Japanese imperialism in China. —Ed.]
SMALL GROUP MENTALITY
Thinking of the welfare or interests of a small group of people that you personally happen to be part of, rather than that of the entire working class, or the masses as a whole. This tendency was criticized by Mao as far back as 1929 (see quote below), and there was also a campaign against this problem during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.
“The tendency towards individualism in the Red Army Party organization manifests itself as follows: ...
“2. ‘Small group’ mentality. Some comrades consider only the interests of their own small group and ignore the general interest. Although on the surface this does not seem to be the pursuit of personal interests, in reality it exemplifies the narrowest individualism and has a strong corrosive and centrifugal effect. ‘Small group’ mentality used to be rife in the Red Army, and although there has been some improvement as a result of criticism, there are still survivals and further effort is needed to overcome it.”
—Mao Zedong, “On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party” (Dec. 1929), SW 1:112-113.
SMITH, Adam (1723-1790)
The most important classical political economist before Ricardo. He gave classical bourgeois political economy its developed form.
“Economics was an affirming religion. Earlier faiths took a dim view of wealth, because it was generally assumed that one person’s pleasure came at the expense of others’ pain. And this was true in a world where productivity barely increased over time: the medieval system of guilds limited entry to skilled crafts because there was only so much demand for bread in Rouen. But Adam Smith recognized that the industrial revolution had altered this reality. As productivity increased, wealth could be accumulated by increasing the size of the economy. Being selfish could be good for everyone. It’s worth emphasizing that Smith did not think selfishness was always good for society. But economics has roughly the same relationship with its founding texts as the world’s other great religions. Smith’s nuanced accounting became ‘Greed is good,’ which has proved to be a world-conquering credo, among both the wealthy and the many who aspire to join them.” —Binyamin Appelbaum, The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (2019), p. 13. [Appelbaum is a liberal bourgeois reporter for the New York Times who, nevertheless, recognizes the intensifying crises in the capitalist economy and within the dominant theories in the economics profession. —Ed.]
SMOOT-HAWLEY TARIFF ACT OF 1930
A protectionist U.S. trade law enacted near the beginning of the Great Depression, which was designed to protect American industry from foreign competition. Of course other major capitalist countries retalitated with their own increased tariffs, and so protectionism became self-defeating for all the advanced capitalist economies because it intensified the already huge decline in world trade. (However, this by no means proves that protectionism is not a wise choice for developing economies trying to establish their own industries in the face of imperialist domination.)
The Smoot-Hawley Act increased tariffs for more than 20,000 products. Although it led to an average tariff rate of 46% in 1933, the rates for some products were much higher and much more important than for others. A recent (2012) study by several bourgeois economists estimates that Smoot-Hawley actually established tariffs equivalent to a uniform rate of 70%.
While the Smoot-Hawley Act and other protectionist measures can in fact somewhat aggravate economic crises (by negatively impacting world trade), we frequently hear from bourgeois economists that this is what “caused” the Great Depression, or at least greatly prolonged it and made it vastly worse. This nonsence arises because apologists for capitalism can never admit that overproduction crises are inherent in capitalism, and in the very extraction of surplus value (capitalist exploitation of workers). Thus they search far and wide for other “explanations” for major economic crises.
Falsely labeling someone as a police agent or informer in order to discredit them and make it seem like they are the enemy. Ironically, this is usually initiated by real police agents themselves, and especially by the FBI. The goal is to disrupt the work of revolutionaries, to destroy their organizational unity and to set them against each other. There is a long history in the U.S. and other countries of this despicable tactic being successfully used by the government. (Occasionally, however, such rumors are instead started by overly-paranoid comrades, based on the flimsiest suspicions.)
Because snitch-jacketing is so common (and unfortunately so destructive), strenuous efforts must be continually made by revolutionaries not to accept rumors along these lines on their face value. If someone claims that a person is a “snitch” then the first thing to do is to demand they provide solid evidence to back up this claim, or to tell you just who they heard this from. If they can’t provide evidence, or authoritative sources (which should themselves be checked), then they should be strongly criticized for spreading unsubstantiated rumors. And if they repeat this sort of rumor-mongering, then perhaps you should start to wonder about just where they are coming from!
See also: OPERATION SPLINTER FACTOR
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