[Single Spark]

Early Steps Toward Revolutionary Organization: A Proposal

Adopted by the Single Spark Collective upon its formal creation, May 1, 2006

[The “Network of Maoist Revolutionaries” referred to in this proposal
was the tentative original name suggested for the new collective.]


      Greetings, brother and sister revolutionaries and friends! We are a very small group of veteran Maoist revolutionaries who are attempting to address a very big problem: How can the few of us help promote the organization of revolutionaries in the U.S., and the creation of revolutionary circles, collectives and other pre-party groups which might eventually come together to create a new, and effective, revolutionary communist party in this country?

      Our general point of view, which we will elaborate on just a bit in the material below, is that the existing revolutionary organizations in this country all have very serious weaknesses, of one kind or another, which they seem completely unable to overcome. These fatal weaknesses are keeping each of these groups (whether they now call themselves a party or not) from becoming a full-fledged, genuine revolutionary communist party that is capable of leading the American working class and masses in social revolution. If this much is in fact true, then it clearly follows that at least one new revolutionary organization must be constructed which does not have these fatal flaws. That is in itself no small or easy task. And there are numerous important preliminary tasks for all of us concerned here to accomplish, before we can get to the point of creating even one new and solid pre-party organization.

      Despite the relatively small size of our overall revolutionary movement, there are at present a great many individual and unaffiliated revolutionaries in this country. In fact, there are many more of us than there are those affiliated with existing revolutionary organizations. The organizations of revolutionaries which now exist are all quite small, and many of them are actually very tiny. That will continue to be the case for some time, and of course any new organizations will also have to start out very small. One reason for this is that, while there are a great many unaffiliated revolutionaries around, their ideas are all over the map. There are many anarchists or anarchist-influenced people, for example, who—while they do have their strengths—cannot typically be said to have a strength in the areas of revolutionary organization and strategy. Still, among these many unaffiliated revolutionaries are many who are doing some serious thinking, investigating Marxism and searching for a path forward. And among these more serious people is a steady stream of those who are attracted to the general point of view of Maoism. We think the central focus of the path forward should be in trying to promote the cooperation, mutual support and organization of precisely these people.

      But how exactly can that be done? We have given this some considerable thought, and even tried a few things out, such as participating in study groups, conferences, extensive practical political work with existing organizations (despite their flaws), and so forth. While these and other activities are certainly worthwhile, so far they haven’t done much to promote more collectivity and organization in the direction of constructing the new revolutionary party that we so desperately need.

      Initial collectivity and organization in this effort can only be built by people who see the need for it, and only those whose political understanding has already developed to some considerable degree will be able to see the need for it. In other words, some theoretical development comes first, and this then makes possible some initial organization and practical activity. These things in turn lead to a deeper political understanding on many questions, and to further theoretical development. And with this further theoretical development comes an understanding of the need for yet higher forms of organization and collectivity. What we are talking about here is a spiral development, which—once begun—can eventually lead to the outcome we seek, a new effective, revolutionary communist party.

      But since we are back at the very beginning of the process we have to focus on how to get this virtuous spiral started. Clearly we must look around for others who see the same need that we do, who have the same final goal that we do (social revolution), and who see at least some need to promote the initial collectivity and organization that might hopefully lead to greater things much further down the road. We must, in other words, search out such people, seize upon their initial ideological strengths and early collectivist impulses in order to get this process of organizational development started.

      Sometimes it is not necessary to search out such folks; they search out you! Those of us who frequently and publicly put forward revolutionary ideas have this happen on a fairly regular basis. The question is: How can those of us who come forward, and first make ourselves known to each other, proceed from there?

The Immediate Proposal

      Our proposal is a fairly simple one, namely to get this process started of promoting organization and collective activity of presently unorganized revolutionaries by first seeking to build up a semi-formal network of some of these people. We propose to call this the “Network of Maoist Revolutionaries”.

      We need, however, to clarify a number of things about what we envision here, what the purpose of this NMR would be, what it would do, how it would function, and so forth. Of course most of what we say here is open to further discussion and change. This is just the initial conception.

      First of all, about the name. Even to have a name at all is already a step toward formal organization. As long as there is no name, there is no real organization that people can relate to. On the other hand, initially at least, and while the first group of people involved are still getting to know and trust each other, we think it is best to view the NMR as only a semi-formal organization, or—in other words—as sort of a half-way house between no organization and a solid organization. By no stretch of the imagination are we proposing to immediately establish a tightly organized democratic-centralist organization, with an elaborate program and definite leadership core. Hopefully the time will someday come for a much larger group of people to establish an organization like that, but that time is not yet here.

      A second point about the name is the appellation “Maoist” which is included in it. There are many sincere revolutionaries out there, including those who respect and appreciate many of the contributions of Mao to revolutionary theory and practice, who nevertheless feel uncomfortable about calling themselves “Maoists”. (In part this discomfort comes from the antics of certain established groups who call themselves “Maoists”.) We hope that this NMR will be able to relate to many such people, work together with them on various practical struggles and political projects and campaigns, and through extensive discussion gradually resolve the theoretical misgivings and differences between us over the question of “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” and on other points. But given the tremendous diversity of views among unaffiliated revolutionaries today, we feel that it is necessary to have at least some fairly basic political unity among those who initially come together to set up the NMR. And we feel that if the necessary points of this basic political unity had to be characterized with a single word, none better than “Maoist” can be found.

      Still, in addition to the general principles of unity implied by the name “Network of Maoist Revolutionaries”, we also need to specify more precisely what those basic principles of unity are. For this purpose we have prepared an initial “What We Believe” statement. [This referred to the initial version of the statement of principles which was adopted on the founding of the Single Spark Collective. —Ed.] (Of course, like everything the NMR does or says as a group, these principles of unity will be open to democratic discussion and amendment. But we view this current document as a good initial statement.)

      What sorts of things do we envision the NMR as doing? Here is a beginning list:

  • Building up contacts and getting to know each other, and also new people as they come forward. Since we are scattered around the country, much of this will have to be done via email, phone, snail-mail, etc. But getting to know each other face-to-face will also be important. (The security issues involved in all this will have to be discussed later. Many of the initial people have to be those who are willing to stick their necks out a bit. We should always assume the government reads our email, for example.)

  • Mutual discussion of many issues of revolutionary strategy, tactics, and MLM theory in general, and coming to more collective unity on these matters (while still allowing for differences of opinion). We envision both many individual discussions between a few members, and also some major group discussions on especially important issues (such as when we prepare group statements and documents). We expect there will be—and even welcome—many different ideas and opinions within the NMR. Each of us will have our own various ideas and conceptions beyond the principles of unity which we all share. And each of us will have the obligation to allow others to hold to their own ideas as well, even while we hope to gradually thrash out the more important and immediate questions and achieve higher levels of unity.

  • The encouragement of each other’s participation in practical revolutionary work among the masses, in particular mass struggles (such as against the Iraq War or other imperialist adventures), and so forth. We hope to create a network of people who see the importance of both theoretical study/discussion and involvement in mass struggles, and who both seek advice and help from each other regarding practical work and who are prepared to give such help and advice to others.

  • Through a web site and by other means, begin to popularize and defend our general group views and positions to the revolutionary movement at large. Begin to build a dialogue with other forces. Answer questions and reply to criticisms that other folks may raise about our collective views and efforts. On appropriate occasions prepare group leaflets and even pamphlets.

  • Where possible for an initially small group of people who are mostly spread out geographically, the initialization of our own practical work among the masses. This may be by just a few individuals in a particular locality, or more of a national effort by the group.

      We believe that if we start to do even these few beginning sorts of things, and gradually learn to do them better, others will be attracted to what we are doing and seek to join in. As we gain experience and numbers, we will be able to do things better and begin to attract even more people.

      How do we envision the NMR as functioning? Here are a few points:

  • We are determined to promote, and even insist on, democratic processes and decision making.

  • After the initial establishment of the NMR, new applicants for membership will be accepted after general democratic consultation by the existing members. If, as hoped, the organization eventually becomes too large for that, we will have to develop some other procedure. (Perhaps regional committees, or some such thing.)

  • Leadership will have to be informal, at least at first. Those who step forward and provide leadership in particular areas will be the de facto leaders of those specific efforts. Eventually, if we become large enough, and solid enough as a group, we will need to select formal leaders through genuinely democratic elections. But we see the function of leadership in the NMR as more a matter of coordination, and definitely not a matter of issuing orders or promoting personal aggrandizement. There will be no Great Leader, top guru, “leader for life”, or any such thing.

  • Even from early on in our existence there will have to be some division of labor. One, or a few people, will need to manage a web site, for example, while others concentrate on other tasks. This necessary initial division of labor will hopefully lead eventually to various committees in charge of different areas of work, etc.

  • Precisely how the NMR actually functions will have to be something that develops as things proceed. It will be up to all the people involved in the effort to determine and further adjust this from time to time.

      Such, in brief is the initial proposal for establishing a Network of Maoist Revolutionaries! This initial step toward revolutionary organization is at the same time both modest and bold. It is modest in that it is only the first step of many that will need to be taken before we arrive at the new and effective revolutionary Maoist party that is our common goal. But there is always boldness in being willing to take any important first step, even if it is taken somewhat cautiously and carefully! The level of participation and dedication that we will be asking of each other and ourselves within the NMR is not that of a full-fledged MLM party. Nobody will be pushed against their will to take on unwanted responsibilities. But we will be asking of every participant that they contribute to this effort seriously and as best they can, and be willing to take on part of the responsibility for making the NMR a success.

Other Revolutionary Groups

      But why work to create any sort of new revolutionary organization when a number of revolutionary groups already exist, some of which even view themselves as Maoist? Yes, they all have some serious problems, but—given the difficulties involved in creating an alternative—why not instead simply work to help these groups overcome their various problems, either as a member or from the outside?

      In response to this we reply:

  • First, several of us have tried to do this over a period of many years now. Eventually you just have to admit that this approach of individual criticism (from the inside or outside) does not seem to work. These existing organizations are very set in their ways, and quite certain that their revolutionary strategies and approaches to the masses are correct—despite their obvious lack of progress in increasing their own numbers or building the overall revolutionary movement in this country.

  • Second, even while attempting step-by-step to construct a more effective revolutionary organization, we hope to continue our comradely criticisms and other efforts to help these other revolutionary groups overcome the problems that are crippling them. We will actually be in a better position to do this if we do so collectively as an organization.

  • Third, it just might be that the most effective way to criticize and change these existing groups (or at least awaken some of their members to the presently unrecognized errors that these groups are making) is to construct a better example of how to go about building the American revolutionary movement.

      What errors, precisely, do we see these existing revolutionary groups as making? Among the organizations that view themselves as Maoist, or at least are strongly influenced by Mao, there seem to be two main trends: one which could be characterized as a “left”-sectarian trend, and the other which could be called right-opportunism. But unfortunately, labels like these tend to be viewed as simple name-calling, and so from now on we will try to avoid them and instead get down to more specific and concrete criticisms.

      Some of the most fundamental and very worst problems that existing revolutionary groups in the U.S. have are in connection with how they relate to the masses and the struggles of the masses. Let’s first review the attitude of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao toward the basic relationship of communists with the masses, starting with the Communist Manifesto:

The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.1

      Lenin described this as “the fundamental Marxist principle on the tactics of the political struggle”.2 And in the draft version of a party programme that Lenin prepared for his party, he said:

The Party’s activity must consist in promoting the worker’s class struggle. The Party’s task is not to concoct some fashionable means of helping the workers, but to join up with the workers’ movement, to bring light into it, to assist the workers in the struggle they themselves have already begun to wage. The Party’s task is to uphold the interests of the workers and to represent those of the entire working class movement.3

      And the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao, stated:

While actively leading immediate struggles, Communists in the capitalist countries should link them with the struggle for long-range and general interests, educate the masses in a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary spirit, ceaselessly raise their political consciousness and undertake the historical task of the proletarian revolution. If they fail to do so, if they regard the immediate movement as everything, determine their conduct from case to case, adapt themselves to the events of the day and sacrifice the basic interests of the proletariat, that is out-and-out social democracy.4

      Summarizing these passages we see that there are two critically important principles here: 1) Communists must join up with the existing day-to-day struggles of the masses, and 2) In the course of that they must bring the light of revolution to the masses (that is, explain to the masses in careful detail just why proletarian revolution is necessary). To fail to do either thing not only departs from long-established MLM wisdom, but inevitably leads to abject failure in our efforts to bring about a social revolution.

      But when you look at the theory and practice of the various existing MLM groups in the U.S. it is easy to see that some of them reject the first principle, while the others reject the second principle. None of them (that we know of) truly upholds both principles.

      The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for example explicitly rejected the first principle in its 1981 Programme.5 Despite the fact that they recently came out with a new “Draft Programme,” which replaces the 1981 Programme, their actual practice is still to avoid participation with the masses in most of their actual struggles. They still consider that it is “economism” or “revisionism” to join up with the masses in their day-to-day struggles! They do try to bring a limited stock of revolutionary ideas to the masses by selling their newspaper, but because they are not working together with the workers and masses in the masses’ own struggles few people pay any serious attention to them. Some might protest that the RCP does go out among the masses, talk with them and even attempt to organize them for certain initiatives, such as their current World Can’t Wait campaign. This is true, and to the extent that it builds opposition to the imperialists, it is a good thing. But the approach of the RCP is not to join with and learn from the masses while leading them. The RCP goes to the masses more like a preacher who harangues them, and is only willing to work with the masses on the terms it sets, not to take the masses as they are and build their understanding and organizing capacity.6

      The rather strange sect which calls itself the “Maoist Internationalist Movement” goes even further; they view the “Amerikkkans” (as they call them) as “bought off” and even “exploiters”—including, evidently, the American working class—and accuse any group that seeks to join up with and aid the American masses in their day-to-day struggles against the ruling class as being “petty-bourgeois”.7

      The opposite error is being made by the two groups which both call themselves the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (since their split in 1999). Although these organizations emerged from the Maoist tradition, neither today claims to be Maoist. The members of these two small groups do make a serious effort to join up with the masses in their day-to-day struggles. But they seem to have forgotten the main reason why revolutionaries need to do so, namely to be in a good position to bring revolutionary ideas to the masses. (We do sincerely seek to help the masses win their struggles over short-term reforms, but our main goal is to change the consciousness of the masses with regard to their long-term interests, which all ultimately depend on making social revolution.) Because the FRSOs engage in very little revolutionary agitation and propaganda with the masses they work with on a daily basis, it seems they must now be considered merely reformist organizations in practice, despite the personal revolutionary views of many of their members.

      These existing MLM organizations (or, perhaps more accurately, these existing MLM-influenced organizations) have a variety of other major faults as well—some of them extremely serious. The RCP, for example, has been promoting ever more insistently the unseemly (and antiscientific) cult of personality they have created around their leader, Bob Avakian. This seems to be turning their whole organization into a cult, in the worst sense of the word. One of the FRSOs apparently toyed for a while with the notion of merging with several revisionist and Trotskyist groups, as part of a “left-refoundation” scheme. The other FRSO group has supported Soviet-style parties in Third World countries and even the old revisionist Soviet Union itself.

      All these existing groups seem to have great difficulties in summing up their work in a scientific manner, and coming to recognize and correct the longstanding errors in their approaches to building a revolutionary movement.

      In addition to these specific criticisms, many of us (and no doubt you too!) have other individual criticisms of the existing revolutionary groups. Possibly in some cases we are wrong or partly wrong in our criticisms. But clearly, there is enough that is seriously wrong with the existing groups that efforts toward building a new revolutionary organization in this country are fully warranted and justified.

      It is also true that most of these existing groups do have some strengths too, and do some worthwhile things. The RCP, for example, has a string of bookstores making revolutionary works available to people, and also—despite its general distaste for participation in mass struggles—has played a role in building mass struggle in two important areas (against police murders and against the U.S. imperialist war and occupation of Iraq).

      Insofar as the RCP, the FRSOs and other revolutionary and even non-revolutionary groups are actually involved in working with the masses to promote their genuine interests, we in the NMR hope to be able to work together with them in a friendly way. In the case of the RCP this may only be in a few areas, since they are only interested in participating with the masses in their existing struggles in a very few areas. There may be more of a scope to work with the FRSO groups in these practical mass struggles, partly because they are open to a much broader range of mass work, but also because both FRSOs hold what might be termed a “pluralistic” view about revolutionary organizations, whereas the RCP denies that any communist forces exist outside their own party.

      This is not the place to get into a thorough and balanced appraisal of the lines and practice of any of these groups. (This will probably be an important task of the NMR as a whole to accomplish, as part of examining, summing up and criticizing the various proposed paths toward revolution in a calm and rational way.) But we do have to clearly recognize that, despite some genuinely positive things they do, these existing organizations really do have crippling defects that necessitate the construction of a new revolutionary organization and—ultimately—a new, effective, Maoist party in this country.

Concluding Remarks

      The immediate proposal to begin to construct a Network of Maoist Revolutionaries depends for its success on the participation of a wider group of people than just the few of us first proposing it. Beyond that, the continued success and development of this NMR depends upon a steady stream (even if only a trickle at first) of new people continuing to come forward and joining in with the effort. Your participation is very much needed!

      Many of you will also have important ideas for everyone involved to consider, as well as questions requiring further clarification of the proposal, and later the functioning of the NMR. We urge everyone who even merely suspects that this proposal may be a promising one to contact us and help us get the ball rolling. We need your questions, your ideas, your criticisms, your input, and your participation!

      Please contact us at: [email address on Single Spark web site].


1   Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” (1848), MECW 6:518-9.

2   Lenin, Karl Marx (Peking: FLP, 1970), p. 43. This long and careful article was originally written by Lenin for an encyclopedia in 1914, and was first published as a pamphlet in 1918. It should also be noted that Lenin uses the word “tactics” here where we would use the word “strategy”.

3   Lenin, “Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party”, LCW 2:112.

4   Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement (The letter of June 14, 1963, of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963), (Peking: FLP, 1963), p. 19.

5   New Programme and New Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1981), pp. 41-44. A brief excerpt: “This concept is fundamentally wrong and has prevented serious preparation for revolution. Its basic starting point is getting into the struggles of the people, particularly around their daily needs.”

6   The version of this proposal adopted at the founding of the Single Spark Collective on May 1, 2006, included at this point a link to the website of the “World Can’t Wait” where a video was posted showing protesters being arrested and yelling and screaming at, and belittling, the masses around them who did not join their protest or subject themselves to arrest as well. The RCP seemed to be putting forward this sort of tirade directed at the masses as some sort of model practice! [As of 2008, the video is no longer available on WCW website, however.]

7   For a long MIM diatribe on this theme see the comments by “mim3” which are posted at: http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/wim/wyl/crypto/text.php?mimfile=rcpmasses.txt

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