Some Thoughts on the Question of Cults

I wrote this article earlier this year, when the large-scale public exposure of the Committee to Reconstitute the Communist Party of the USA [CR-CPUSA] was begun by American comrades. It was not submitted for publication, however, as I was too busy with other work. However, I found it again recently, and have decided to submit it for publication by the Red Flag, as I still think it is relevant to the current struggle of the international Communist movement against dogmato-revisionism, particularly now, when the Italian dogmato-revisionists and their German «responsible comrades», the Committee Red Flag, have launched an all-out attack against the international Communist movement in the form of a series of (really bad, so-called) polemics against the international review Maoist Road, the magazine Two-Line Struggle, and against Italian, Norwegian, and other Maoists in the name of «the struggle for unification» — a pathetic and sycophantic attempt to win the Indian and Galician Maoists for the «International Communist League» through proxy attacks on their correct stand against the split in the movement carried out by the dogmato-revisionist trend around the Communist Party of Brazil in December of last year. I recently read the response to this unprincipled attack by the Italian comrades, which accurately described these dogmatists as «lice» and unmasked their attacks as baseless speculation. I am certain that the movement will soon respond to these wreckers in full, but, in the meantime, I hope that this article will also help comrades to stick to the correct orientation in the struggle. Let us critically learn from Comrade Gonzalo, taking the good and leaving the bad, without blaming him for the «sins» of his «children», and not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as some comrades (for example, the Swedish Maoists) want to do — and let us unite on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as defined by the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement 30 years ago this year, a milestone that (as the Movement itself stated at that time) would have been impossible without the contributions of Comrade Gonzalo and Gonzalo's Thought, in spite of all his limitations.

#The Author
#October 2023


#Opinion Article by Lena K.
#August 2023

Recently, following the exposure of the pseudo-religious character of the dogmato-revisionist trend in the international Communist movement (the exposure of the CR-CPUSA by American Communists — see the blog, there has been a somewhat widespread discussion of the character of cults and of what constitutes cultist behaviour by Communists.

Some well-meaning people have taken to exposing these organizations as «Maoist cults» or «Gonzaloist cults», thus attributing their cultist character to their supposedly being «Maoist» or «Gonzaloist» organizations — that is to say, that their character as cults supposedly derives from their inferred character as Communist organizations. I find this trend to be disturbing, especially when it comes to self-declared Communists or Socialists, who supposedly uphold Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, but who nevertheless unscrupulously join the crowd of bourgeois liberals denouncing Maoism and «Gonzaloism» as cultist ideologies.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the exposure of these organizations for what they are — pseudo-Communist cults and sects of the lowliest order, an echo in the 21st century of groups such as the «Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong's Thought» in England or of the Red Army Faction in miniature — but I can't find myself agreeing with the way in which this is being done. Communism is no cult, and Communist Parties are not sects. There is no such thing as «cultism» or «sectarianism» that exist outside of the realm of classes. Comrade Mao Zedong correctly pointed out that, «in class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class».1 How could there be a Communist Party or group which is simultaneously a cult or a sect? It isn't possible. Being a Communist organization precludes one from being a cult or a sect in the first place. Cultist and sectarian aspects there will always be, until they are eliminated in the course of line struggle, but those aspects becoming primary in the life of a political party or organization would automatically mean that the organization in question stopped being Communist. As an article edited by Mao Zedong stated:

The cult of the individual is a foul carry-over from the long history of humanity. The cult of the individual is rooted not only in the exploiting classes but also in the small producers. As is well known, paternalism is a product of small-producer economy. After the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even when the exploiting classes are eliminated, when small-producer economy has been replaced by a collective economy and a socialist society has been founded, certain rotten, poisonous ideological survivals of the old society may still remain in people's minds for a very long time.2

Many Communist Parties have had problems with cultism and sectarianism. The Communist Parties in the Union of Socialist Council Republics and in China had such problems, particularly with the cult of the individual, which we can all agree is a central aspect of all cults, political or religious. In the Communist Party of Peru under the leadership of Comrade Gonzalo, the cult of the individual was almost raised to the level of an ideological principle. (I say almost, because the many expressions of personal worship and attribution of superhuman abilities to Gonzalo, although widely practised in the Party and promoted by Gonzalo himself, were never, to my knowledge, stated as ideological principles in Party documents. Rather, only the acknowledgement of a headquarters and a guiding thought were, which, in itself, is not a cultist formulation.) However, it is only with the dogmato-revisionist trend which emerged as a continuation and deepening of Gonzalo's deviations after his arrest (a trend which emerged primarily in a faction of the Peru People's Movement, the organization created by the Party to conduct its work abroad, and was carried on in other parties and groups influenced by it later on) that this serious deviation of the cult of the individual was raised to the level of ideological principle. This is the ideological root cause of the leader-worship that is so prevalent in the dogmato-revisionist trend, from the CR-CPUSA's worship of their «Great Leader», Dallas, through the Committee Red Flag's «absolute personal subjection» to their so-called «Boss», to the leader of the whole trend, Geronimo, the Chairperson of the Communist Party of Brazil, whose public worship will no doubt begin in the near future when the long-awaited people's war is launched in Brazil.

In short, cults are not and cannot be Communist, Maoist, or even «Gonzaloist». So-called «Marxist» cults or sects are revisionist organizations, not Communist ones. It therefore cannot be permitted for us Communists to refer to these groups as «Maoist cults» or to imply that their cultism and sectarianism were somehow rooted in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

(The absurdity of the term «Gonzaloism», as is often used by the Left-wing of the international Communist movement today, could be the topic of a separate article. In this piece, I will simply limit myself to stating clearly that what is often called «Gonzaloism» is simply a further development of the serious deviations of Comrade Gonzalo prior to 1992 to the level of ideological principle, that is, to the level of actual revisionism as opposed to simple deviations. Gonzalo can be blamed for this only to the degree that Stalin can be blamed for the existence of Hoxhaism or Engels for the existence of «orthodox Marxism» — that is to say, a little bit, but not to the degree that our comrades are taking it. We should not through the baby out with the bathwater. As a side remark, it is worth considering that there would then be two «Gonzaloisms», as Gonzalo's deviations after 1992 have also been turned into a revisionist trend by certain members of the Communist Party of Peru!)

Comrade Lenin condemned those who would accuse us Communists of cultism, stating:

Throughout the developed world, the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of «pernicious sect». And no other attitude is to be expected, for there can be no «impartial» social science in a society based on class struggle. In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage slavery, whereas Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as foolishly naive as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers' wages ought not to be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.

But this is not all. The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling «sectarianism» in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilization. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of humanity. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy, and socialism.

The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides people with an integral worldview irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression.3

I hope that my readers will forgive me for this long quotation, but I find it to be extremely relevant to the present discussion, as do I find the following statement, also by Lenin:

International Social-Democracy is at present in a state of ideological wavering. Hitherto the doctrines of Marx and Engels were considered to be the firm foundation of revolutionary theory, but voices are now being raised every where to proclaim these doctrines inadequate and obsolete. [...]

We take our stand entirely on the Marxist theoretical standpoint: Marxism was the first to transform socialism from a utopia into a science, to lay a firm foundation for this science, and to indicate the path that must be followed in further developing and elaborating it in all its parts. [...]

And we now ask: Has anything new been introduced into this theory by its loud-voiced «renovators» who are raising so much noise in our day [...]? Absolutely nothing. Not by a single step have they advanced the science which Marx and Engels enjoined us to develop; they have not taught the proletariat any new methods of struggle; they have only retreated, borrowing fragments of backward theories and preaching to the proletariat, not the theory of struggle, but the theory of concession — concession to the most vicious enemies of the proletariat, the governments and bourgeois political parties, who never tire of seeking new means of baiting the Socialists. [...]

We anticipate a flood of accusations for these words; the shouts will rise that we want to convert the Socialist Party into an order of «true believers» that persecutes «heretics» for deviations from «dogma», for every independent opinion, and so on. We know about all these fashionable and trenchant phrases. Only there is not a grain of truth or sense in them. There can be no strong Socialist Party without a revolutionary theory which unites all Socialists, from which they draw all their convictions, and which they apply in their methods of struggle and means of action. To defend such a theory, which to the best of your knowledge you consider to be true, against unfounded attacks and attempts to corrupt it is not to imply that you are an enemy of all criticism. We do not regard Marx's theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation of the science which Socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life. We think that an independent elaboration of Marx's theory is especially essential for Russian Socialists; for this theory provides only general guiding principles, which, in particular, are applied in England differently than in France, in France differently than in Germany, and in Germany differently than in Russia.4

Democratic centralism, clandestinity, militarization, discipline, leadership, collective culture, and so on — these principles and many more are not expressions of cultism or sectarianism. Rather, they are ideas which must be integrated with the concrete practice of each revolutionary movement. We cannot have militarization outside of wartime, and any attempt to do so will result in precisely the kind of problems which occurred in the CR-CPUSA. In bourgeois-democratic countries, the open periphery around our clandestine organization can be much broader and more loose than in fascist or semi-feudal countries, and neglecting this fact will produce the kind of ridiculous self-isolation in which the Committee Red Flag engages. We need democratic centralism and discipline, but in times of peace and democracy, our discussions can be more open, the masses can be more involved, and we need not act as though discussing a directive before carrying it out would lead to the death of comrades or the destruction of apparatuses. Of course, there will come a time, in some places quite soon, when militarization, going underground, imposing harsh discipline, and so on, will become life-and-death necessities, but then our comrades will also accept these things as matters of life and death. Today, however (I am speaking of countries which are similar to Switzerland, not those which are very different from it), the point is to build up genuinely proletarian political parties, vanguards of the class-conscious workers, tribunes of the working people, parties which, while shielding themselves against repression, are also deeply rooted among the masses, and whose members are relatable to the masses. That also includes their leaders being relatable to the masses of activists inside their organizations, and not isolating themselves from daily work, as the so-called «leaders» in the dogmato-revisionist organizations are wont to do.

We should recognize that cultism and sectarianism are social phenomena which stem from the influence of class society, not characteristics of Marxism or of the Communist movement. At the same time, we should be self-critical and reflect on how to avoid such mistakes in our own organizations. We should seriously study the experience of the Communist Party of Peru (and yes, even of the Peru People's Movement, the Committee Red Flag, and the CR-CPUSA) and draw lessons from past negative experience. We must avoid repeating these mistakes. In the Swiss Communist movement, too, cultism and sectarianism prevailed in the years following the expulsion of the Committee Red Flag and before the Anti-Dogmatist Rectification Movement, which thankfully has cured us of many of these ills. There are still amends to be made, of course, but they will be made, and, as Stalin said, we will achieve political maturity by criticizing our own mistakes.

In the meantime, I only hope that our comrades in other countries, such as Germany and the United States, will not fall too far into the other marsh, the marsh of empiricism, in which the baby is thrown out with the bathwater — we are already seeing signs of such a trend. If we want to make communism relevant again in the 21st century, we must reaffirm our «dogma», our Communist principles, while rejecting all the dead weight that the Communist movement has gradually accumulated over the past 175 years. This does not include rejecting those comrades who, in spite of their own mistakes, fought for this cause and without whom we would not even be here and speak of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism today, such as Comrade Gonzalo or Comrade Stalin.

As to the dogmato-revisionist trend, which recently completed its self-expulsion from the international Communist movement, it is merely one of the final dregs of a tremendous heap of rubbish that has accumulated over so many years, and which must be swept away if we are to advance toward the second great wave of the proletarian-socialist world revolution. In my opinion, the polemics and the exposure of these cults and sects should continue, and I don't care how many provocateurs, rapists, and revisionists have their faces and names leaked to the public. These wannabe cult leaders are demagogues, the worst enemies of the working class, and they should feel scared in their apartments, should have to look twice over their shoulders when they walk down the street, should be worried about when someone will take their revenge. These people used to portray themselves as «experts in Red terror» — now they will know what Red terror means. The masses — those of them who even know or care about these miserable individuals — will not forgive them. This goes for the Dallas cult as well as for the Committee Red Flag.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will stick to our guns, stick to our principles, and keep on building up our political parties and mass bases in preparation for the final, decisive struggle against globalized monopoly capitalism — a struggle which is already simmering as the incompatibility of capitalism with our very lives and the planet itself on which we live is becoming crystal clear to anyone with eyes and ears. A second wave of revolutions is coming, and when it arrives, it will hit hard, like one of the mudslides, tsunamis, and hurricanes which we've got to know so well in the past few years. And when that time comes, the workers and the masses won't need cults or sects to preach to them, they'll need real political parties to lead them, and we'll be there to provide them.

  1. Mao Zedong: On Dialectical Materialism (July-August 1937) 

  2. Editorial Department of the People's Daily: On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (5th of April, 1956) 

  3. Nikolaj Lenin: The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (March 1913) 

  4. Nikolaj Lenin: Our Programme (Second Half of 1899)