On “Guiding Thoughts” and the “Cult of Personality”

Communist Workers Union (MLM) [Union Obrera Comunista-mlm], July 7 2009

Unofficial English Translation, 2023

Editor’s Note: The following is a translation of a 2009 article by Colombian comrades on the question of “Guiding Thoughts” and “Cults of Personality.” While the original article was written in response to the situation within the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), we believe it provides a valuable perspective for the US revolutionary movement. Historically and to the present day many organizations have degenerated in deferring to the guru-like leadership of one or a few individuals. This problem seems to be especially pronounced in the US, the most bourgeois country in the world, and has repeatedly been a factor holding back the growth of revolutionary proletarian parties and movements. This article provides a needed critical assessment of the theoretical underpinnings of these ideas within the International Communist Movement.

Translator’s Note: As much as possible, the standard English translations or originals of quotes have been included instead of translating from the Spanish, and citations to the English versions have been added. Original footnotes of the authors are marked as such. Citations have been added where they are missing in the original. Chinese names have been changed from Wade Giles to Pinyin romanizations, both in the original text and in quotations.

Source: Negacion de la Negacion No. 4 (September 2009) https://revolucionobrera.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/nn4.pdf

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“Committees and not individuals lead the party at every step—and there will not be correct leadership without collective leadership which eliminates the risks of one-man autocratic leadership and guarantees as far as possible a complete analysis of the situations at hand… We have to take advantage of all our intelligence, increase the reasoning capacity of the Party, and prevent a select few from assuming the right to think for the rest.”Francisco Garnica[i]

The propaganda of the so-called “guiding thoughts” has been a constant within the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), and consists in the view that the party of the proletariat cannot successfully lead a revolution in a country without a great leader who gives national form and content to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

This is a revisionist position with respect to the relationships between masses-classes-parties-leaders, as defended by the teachers of the proletariat (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao). Such a revisionist position has been revived not due to ignorance but due to a bourgeois class conception, thus becoming an attack on the valiant historical legacy obtained by the workers’ movement in its struggle against the cult of personality.

And in Nepal it has been shown that such a position caused great harm to the revolutionary struggle, since it was Prachanda’s cult of personality which was one of the factors which made it possible to impose on the entire party the disastrous ideas of so-called “Prachanda Path.”

One can see how, as the cults of personality of the leaders, the poorly named “paths” or “leading thoughts” have had a negative influence, facilitating the surrender of the revolution at the doorstep of its triumph. It was a defeat from within, laying bare once again that when the messianic role of the great leaders is placed above the leadership of the Party, it is only one small step away from reversing the revolution and ruining everything. This recent negative experience confirms the necessity of staying faithful to the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, to the ideology, to the Party, to the proletarian revolution, and never to individuals.

This aspect of the “newer” revisionism of Prachanda did not emerge with the deviations of the Communist Party of Nepal—it had already been developing within RIM from the process of the New Democratic Revolution in Peru, with the cult of personality of Abimael Guzman, better known as Chairman Gonzalo, and with other lamentable manifestations such as the cult of Bob Avakian in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA and of Victor Fernandez in the Communist Party of Spain, the latter of which was not a part of RIM, but which affirmed that its inclusion was agreed upon but never realized.[ii]

The aforementioned situation demands that revolutionary communists once again defend the science of revolution, unmasking the ideological contraband that tries to pass itself off as ideas of the proletariat.

To prove that this type of opportunism is not new, it is pertinent to tackle the discussion in two parts: one historical and the other contemporary.

  1. The Historical Teachings of the Communist Struggle Against the Cult of Personality and “Guiding Thoughts”

Returning to experience, one can see that the bourgeoisie has tried to convert the figures of Marx and Lenin into harmless icons to dull the revolutionary edge of their ideas. The Khruschevite revisionists were responsible for deifying Stalin only to later besmirch his contributions. In China, it was Lin Biao who was the main promoter of the personality cult of Mao, but also the one who organized a plot for assassinating him. In Albania, the revisionists encouraged the cult of Enver Hoxha and in Korea the nationalists did the same for Kim Il Sung.

It is illustrative to look at the experience of the struggle against the cult of personality, beginning with the clear positions on the subject, from the most important leaders that the international working-class movement has had:

Marx wrote to Wilhelm Blos in Hamburg:

“London, 10 November 1877

… “I ‘bear no ill-will’ (as Heine says) and nor for that matter does Engels. Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves — originating from various countries — to accord me public honour, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity, nor did I ever reply to them, save with an occasional snub. When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules. (Lassalle subsequently operated in the reverse direction.)”[iii]

These proposals conclusively summarize the materialist conception with respect to personality cults, which run counter to the incorrect practice of some Parties and leaders who today self-promote their personal merits, and at the extreme present themselves as quasi-supreme saviors.

Engels, writing to Plekhanov, reprimanding him for the title of “mentor” that he had insisted on giving him, said: “My dear Plekhanov: First of all, please spare me ‘mentor’—my name is simply Engels…”[iv]

For his part, Lenin assigned with total precision the relation between masses, classes, parties, and leaders: “It is common knowledge that the masses are divided into classes, that the masses can be contrasted with classes only by contrasting the vast majority in general, regardless of division according to status in the social system of production, with categories holding a definite status in the social system of production; that as a rule and in most cases—at least in present-day civilised countries—classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are run by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions, and are called leaders.”[v]

Stalin was also clear in this respect: In spite of all the slander of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, Stalin always rejected attempts at creating a personality cult by some supposed followers, who later on led efforts to smear his name. As he put it in a public response to a private letter sent by some intellectuals who declared their “devotion” to him: “You speak of your “devotion” to me. Perhaps it was just a chance phrase. Perhaps… But if the phrase was not accidental I would advise you to discard the “principle” of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”[vi]

As for Mao Zedong’s position on the question of cult of personality, it is well-illustrated in the polemic initiated between the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, on the occasion of the latter’s attacks on Stalin under the cover of a supposed rejection of the cult of personality. “The Communist Party of China has always adhered to the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the role of the masses and the individual in history and on the interrelationship of leaders, party, class and masses, and upheld democratic centralism in the Party. We have always maintained collective leadership; at the same time, we are against belittling the role of leaders. While we attach importance to this role, we are against dishonest and excessive eulogy of individuals and exaggeration of their role. As far back as 1949 the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, on Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s suggestion, took a decision forbidding public celebrations of any kind on the birthdays of Party leaders and the naming of places, streets or enterprises after them.”[vii]

If this is what Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao thought, then where has this “fairy tale” of deifying the leaders of the movement come from? Although it appears paradoxical, it has always been the opportunists within proletarian parties who have promoted the cult of personality. Let’s look at this interesting text from the Chinese comrades: “The criticism of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU was wrong both in principle and in method… Stalin rendered great services to the development of the Soviet Union and the international communist movement. In the article “On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” published in April 1956, we said:

‘After Lenin’s death Stalin creatively applied and developed Marxism-Leninism as the chief leader of the Party and the state. Stalin expressed the will and aspirations of the people, and proved himself an outstanding Marxist-Leninist fighter, in the struggle in defence of the legacy of Leninism against its enemies—the Trotskyites, Zinovievites and other bourgeois agents. Stalin won the support of the Soviet people and played an important role in history primarily because, together with the other leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he defended Lenin’s line on the industrialization of the Soviet Union and the collectivization of agriculture. By pursuing this line, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union brought about the triumph of socialism in the Soviet Union and created the conditions for the victory of the Soviet Union in the war against Hitler; these victories of the Soviet people accorded with the interests of the working class of the world and all progressive mankind. It was therefore natural that the name of Stalin was greatly honoured throughout the world.’

“It was necessary to criticize Stalin’s mistakes. But in his secret report to the 20th Congress, Comrade Khrushchov completely negated Stalin, and in doing so defamed the dictatorship of the proletariat, defamed the socialist system, the great CPSU, the great Soviet Union and the international communist movement. Far from using a revolutionary proletarian party’s method of criticism and self-criticism for the purpose of making an earnest and serious analysis and summation of the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat, he treated Stalin as an enemy and shifted the blame for all mistakes on to Stalin alone…”

“In completely negating Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchov in effect negated the dictatorship of the proletariat and the fundamental. theories of Marxism-Leninism which Stalin defended and developed. It was at that Congress that Khrushchov, in his summary report, began the repudiation of Marxism-Leninism on a number of questions of principle.”[viii]

Today the attack against Stalin has again been revived from within the International Communist Movement itself, “new attacks” which signify the renunciation of the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, as has been presented by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

And during the process of socialist state construction in China, the flag-bearers of promoting the personality cult of Mao were precisely those revisionists Liu Shao-qi and Lin Biao. We must remember that it was Liu Shao-qi himself who coined the phrase “guiding thought”. The following excerpts from a writing of Liu Shao-qi should give pause to the comrades who today defend the “guiding thoughts” and the “great leaders” in almost the same terms as the infamous Chinese revisionist:

“CONCERNING THE GUIDING IDEOLOGY OF THE PARTY: (…) Our congress should warmly celebrate the development of a unique, integrated and correct theory of the people’s revolution and national reconstruction which has been maturing since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party… It is the greatest achievement and glory of the Party and the Chinese people in their long struggles and will benefit our nation for generation upon generation. This theory is none other than Mao Zedong Thought.”

“Mao Zedong Thought is the theory which integrates Marxist-Leninist theories with the practice of the Chinese revolution. It is communism and Marxism applied to China.”

“As a pupil of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, Comrade Mao Zedong has exactly effected the integration of the Marxist-Leninist theories with the practice of the Chinese revolution. This has given rise to Chinese communism – Mao Zedong Thought…”

“These theories and policies [i.e. new democracy, the united front, revolutionary war…] are at once thoroughly Marxist and thoroughly Chinese. They are the highest expression of the wisdom of the Chinese people and the most succinct of theoretical generalizations.”

“CONCERNING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHINESE REVOLUTION: (…) At certain historical periods he [Mao Zedong] was not in a position to determine the action of the entire Party through formal, organization channels, and it is precisely these historical periods that best demonstrate that the true fate of our Party and the correct revolutionary orientation of the Chinese proletariat and people lay with, and continued to be developed by Comrade Mao Zedong. He alone is the people’s representative and nucleus.”[ix]

Recall that Liu Shao-qi was unanimously expelled in the 12th Extended Plenary Session of the 8th CC of the CPC in 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, as it had already become evident through his words that the cult of personality of Mao had only been a pretext to hand power over to the Chinese bourgeoisie. And one of the leaders that rose up in criticism against Liu Shao-qi was none other than a diligent continuator of the “cult of personality”: Lin Biao.

One of Lin Biao’s famous sermons had its roots in the slave-owning philosopher Confucius and dealt with the theory of “innate genius”, a priori and above classes: extremely talented people, supermen that correspond to the idealist conception of heroes as the makers of history. Lin Biao never appeared without the little red book of Quotations of Mao Zedong, and his words were always of the “cult to his personality”:

“For decades, Mao Zedong Thought has been showing the orientation of the revolution to the whole Party and the people of the whole country. However, as Liu Shao-chi and his gang of counter-revolutionary revisionists blocked Chairman Mao’s instructions, the broad revolutionary masses could hardly hear Chairman Mao’s voice directly.

The storm of the present great revolution has destroyed the big and little “palaces of hell-rulers” and has made it possible for Mao Zedong Thought to reach the broad revolutionary masses directly. This is a great victory. This wide dissemination of Mao Zedong Thought in a big country with a population of 700 million is the most significant achievement of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In this revolution, hundreds of millions of people always carry with them Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, which they study and apply conscientiously. As soon as a new instruction of Chairman Mao’s is issued, they propagate it and go into action.”[x]

“Our Chairman Mao is the highest commander of this great proletarian cultural revolution. Chairman Mao is the supreme commander. Under the guidance of the great supreme commander, Chairman Mao, and faithfully following his instructions, we will certainly carry the great cultural revolution forward smoothly and win a great victory!”[xi]

“On behalf of our great teacher, great leader, great supreme commander, and great helmsman Chairman Mao, I extend greetings to you…”[xii]

“China is a great socialist state of the dictatorship of the proletariat and has a population of 700 million. It needs unified thinking, revolutionary thinking, correct thinking. That is Mao Zedong’s thinking. Only with this thinking can we maintain vigorous revolutionary enthusiasm and a firm and correct political orientation.”[xiii]

And as a finishing touch on the derangement he preached, Lin Biao did not hesitate to categorize the Declaration on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as “the latest embodiment of Mao Zedong’s thought.”[xiv]

The previously exposed approaches are very illustrative, reflecting a bourgeois point of view, identical to those laid out today by some parties that call themselves representatives of the proletariat. They pretend that the application of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to concrete reality in each country equates to a new “guiding thought,” Marxism of a Chinese, Peruvian, Russian, or whatever country’s variety. And of course, they spread the bourgeois idea that the revolution is realized around a providential leader.

The other feature of the subtle attack of Chinese revisionism, a tactic Liu Shao-qi and Lin Biao both used in order to ideologically disarm the masses, was to turn Mao into the central personality, the supreme being on whom the correct revolutionary road depended, even though in 1949 the Central Committee of the CPC had outlined a directive against the cult of personality.

  1. The Present Discussion
  1. On the guiding national thought vs. the universal guide of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism

Within the International Communist Movement and particularly in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), the cult of personality took hold, to the point that the elevation of important leaders became an alienating practice. For example: Abimael Guzman in Peru, Prachanda in Nepal, Bob Avakian in the U.S.

This wrong view of revisionist origins is based on the false argument for the necessity of the emergence of “guiding thoughts,” which (according to its proponents) are the product of the application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in each country.

Let’s look at a few cases:

In Peru, it was the journalist Arce Borja who was the main promoter of the cult of personality of Abimael Guzman.[xv] In the book “Fundamental Documents of the PCP- 1988”, Arce Borja says:

“All revolutions, in their process of development, through the struggle of the proletariat as the leading class and, above all, the struggle of the Communist Party that raises their unrenounceable class interests, give rise to a group of leaders and principally one who represents and leads it, a leader with acknowledged authority and influence. In our reality this has taken shape, on account of historical necessity and causality, in President Gonzalo, leader of the Party and of the revolution.

Moreover, and this is the basis upon which all leadership (jefatura) is formed, revolutions give rise to a thought that guides them, which is the result of the application of the universal truth of the ideology of the international proletariat to the concrete conditions of each revolution; a guiding thought indispensable to reach victory and to conquer political power and, moreover, to continue the revolution and to maintain the course always towards the only, great goal: Communism; a guiding thought that, arriving at a qualitative leap of decisive importance for the revolutionary process which it leads, identifies itself with the name of the one who shaped it theoretically and practically.”[xvi]

“…The application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism must be specific to each revolution, so that it does not become a mechanical formula. For this reason, the Peruvian Revolution has generated President Gonzalo and Gonzalo Thought, which is the main principle in the basis of Party unity. Each revolution must specify its guiding thought, without which there can be no application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, nor any revolutionary development.”[xvii]

A fact which lays bare how strongly the deviation of the “cult of personality” and of “guiding thought” took hold in Peru is that even Abimael Guzman and the leadership of the PCP put emphasis on his “thought.”

These views do not correspond to the role played by leaders. Already since the 90s, in the magazine “Revista Contradicción” published by revolutionary communists in Colombia, the Peruvian comrades were warned of the dangers that the “lamentable exaggeration” played in resting the fate of the Peruvian revolution on the role of an individual. Subsequent practical experience has demonstrated the validity of this warning.[xviii]

For revolutionary communists, the application of MLM takes form in program, tactics, and organization. It is well known that the communist program of a given country is similar to those of other countries, insofar as its content is the declaration of the aims and demands of the communist movement, the conscious expression of the real forces, and the immediate practical measures that are put forward to achieve said aims. In other words, the universal application of MLM to a concrete society does not result from a new “thought”, a new “guide”, a new “worldview”. The compass continues to be the science of the proletariat, which by its very nature is of an international character.

For this reason, to consider the application of the science of the proletariat to be equivalent to generating a new “guiding thought,” a “national” Marxism (as the revisionist Liu Shao-qi openly expressed it), is a nationalist deviation.

But the opportunist tendency of needing a local guiding thought did not limit itself to the process of the revolution in Peru; it was making such a name for itself that it also came to the forefront in the New Democratic Revolution in Nepal. In an article titled “The development of the People’s War and the question of ideological synthesis,”[xix] Prachanda himself spells out the magical virtues of his thought:

“The historical process of the four & a half years old people’s war (PW) marching forward in great strides with the creation of base areas under the leadership of the’ Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the political vanguard of the Nepalese proletariat & a powerful detachment of the international proletarian army, has given birth to the Guiding Thought of the Party as an ideological synthesis. This Guiding Thought of the Party synthesised in the context of the application of the universal truths of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism particularly in the course of the preparation, initiation & development of the great PW has far-reaching national & international significance. Hence, it is quite natural & necessary to have a serious debate on this at the national & international level.”

The so-called “ideological synthesis” quickly turned into “Prachanda Path,” with which the party was ideologically disarmed in order to replace Marxism-Leninism-Maoism with a series of opportunist ideas that in the end led it to the betrayal of the revolution. The hoax was complete: First they speak of making a national Marxism; then, that parody of Marxism is turned into a “guiding thought,” later, it is attributed to an individual, around whom a whole cult of personality is built. And finally, with the party ideologically disarmed, they proceed to disarm the forces of the revolution in practice.

But these are not the only MLM parties that have fallen into the bourgeois hoax of the cult of personality around one of their leaders. The leaders of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the United States invented “The new vision of socialism of Bob Avakian” which is nothing but a deceitful attack on the scientific ideology of the proletariat. Raymond Lotta[xx] assures us that: “Bob Avakian has developed a radical new model of socialist society…”

Where does Lotta get the idea that socialist society is a “model” that someone develops? This is the old reactionary idea of utopian socialism. Scientific socialism does not attempt to elaborate models of society. And as always, these “models” reduce themselves to cliches taken from the prejudices of bourgeois democracy. Lotta says: “In his reenvisioning of socialism, Bob Avakian has been emphasizing the role of dissent in socialist society. Avakian has said that dissent must not only be allowed but actively fostered, and this includes opposition to the government. This is something quite new in the understanding of communists…you don’t want a situation where people are afraid to speak out against the regime and face repression, as happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin. People must feel that they have room to disagree with those in authority. And socialist society must make available the resources and outlets, so people can express these views… Avakian has written that it would be a good thing to allow even reactionaries to publish some books and speak out in socialist society.”

What is suggested by the Avakian’s supposed “new vision of socialism” doesn’t contribute anything new to the scientific legacy of MLM. On the contrary, it is a clumsy distortion of the meaning of the struggle to the death between the socialist and capitalist roads, and of combatting the followers of capitalism.

One can see that the erroneous conception within RIM of the supposed “development of guiding thoughts” in each country would lead to hundreds of these and would incorrectly end with us building Parties and developing proletarian revolutions around the Leader of each country. Such a position distorts the science of MLM as a universal guide to lead world revolution. In other words, the supposed necessity of guiding thoughts is completely false. Another point is the recognition of the development of Marxism as a living science.

It is obvious that the position of minimizing the science of MLM to national guiding thought has made strides within RIM, to such a high degree that it influenced the destruction of the proletarian revolutions in Peru and Nepal. These events made it clear that there has not yet been a qualitative leap in the science of MLM in any of its aspects, and, on the contrary in the case of Prachandite revisionism, which considers the historical arsenal of the experiences of socialism insufficient to comprehend and lead the proletarian revolution to victory in the 21st century, has ended in a grand theoretical fiasco and a terrible political and military betrayal.

MLM is the most revolutionary theory because it is the only theory and method that has been able to discover the general laws that have carried humanity to the imperialist epoch, clearly establishing the laws and contradictions that determine its death and the bright future of communism.

  1. The “cult of personality” is the complement to the deviation of “guiding thoughts” in each country

To permit or even support the cult of personality is another one of the mechanisms of spiritual subjugation of the masses and one of the principal mistakes of the communists both in Russia and in China, which contributed to the defeat of the proletariat. Such a deviation, which gives infallible power to leaders, arms the bourgeoisie and the revisionists with the power to turn the teachers of the proletariat into harmless icons, turn the proletarian leaders into new gods, and, finally, to use them to carry out the counter-revolution. In the name of struggle against the cult of personality of Stalin, the revisionists that had slavishly promoted it during his life put an end to the achievements of socialist construction in Russia. In the name of Mao Zedong Thought the new bourgeoisie usurped power in China.

Today in the International Communist Movement there are those who intend to introduce as Marxism the old idealist bourgeois theory of genius, as can be observed in the so-called “Gonzalo Thought”, “Prachanda Path”, and “New Synthesis of Avakian”—Thoughts, Paths, and Syntheses that end up being not only an obstacle for the masses to liberate themselves from by being introduced as a new religion (with the aggravating circumstance that the “geniuses” themselves believe in it), but moreover, are theories and “systems” that turn away from Marxism and drive the revolution off a cliff. This has already been shown with “Prachanda Path” in Nepal, with which the “New Synthesis of Avakian” coincides, and from which so-called “Gonzalo Thought” does not appear any better, as it has now been supported by the Right Opportunist Line to justify the renunciation of the Peruvian revolution.

For its part, against this revisionist trick, the comrades of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) correctly criticized this deviation in their open letter to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from May[xxi] 2009:

“Fight against dogmatism” has become a fashionable phrase among many Maoist revolutionaries. They talk of discarding “outdated” principles of Lenin and Mao and to develop MLM in the “new conditions” that are said to have emerged in the world of the 21st century. Some of them describe their endeavour to “enrich and develop” MLM as a new path or thought, and though this is initially described as something confined to revolution in their concerned country, it inexorably assumes a “universal character” or “universal significance” in no time. And in this exercise individual leaders are glorified and even deified to the extent that they appear infallible. Such glorification does not help in collective functioning of Party committees and the Party as a whole and questions on line are hardly ever raised as they stem from an infallible individual leader. In such a situation it is extremely difficult on the part of the CC, not to speak of the cadres, to fight against a serious deviation in the ideological-political line, or in the basic strategy and tactics even when it is quite clear that it goes against the interests of revolution. The “cult of the individual” promoted in the name of path and thought provides a certain degree of immunity to the deviation in line if it emanates from that individual leader.”[xxii]

Hence Francisco Garnica, struggling against the revisionist deviation of the Colombian Khruschevites, hammered down insistently on the question in his defense of the statutes of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist): “In the face of mediocre people with borrowed mindsets, the Party demands people with their own developed mindsets, militants and leaders that put their intelligence and their personal qualities in service of the cause, cadres that develop their human values within the collective and unitary spirit of the Party. We have to take advantage of all our intelligence, increase the reasoning capacity of the Party, and prevent a select few from assuming the right to think for the rest.”[xxiii]

Arce Borja’s example is very illustrative. He had invented the narrative of Abimael Guzman and his thought as the “fourth sword” and the “highest peak” (which convinced many honest Marxist-Leninist-Maoists around the world), and made a sharp turn after the emergence of the right-opportunist line in the PCP, which was sanctioned by the supreme leadership and thought of Abimael Guzman. Let us recall Arce Borja’s own words. In 1991, he said: “We expressed our opinion of this notable Peruvian politician [Guzman] in July 1988 in the prologue of the Report of the Century, when we had the exceptional opportunity to interview him for El Diario.[xxiv] There, we said that we were ‘in front of a man of extraordinary intelligence that soberly mastered the most complex subjects.’ A scientist of ideas and profound thinking. Our view continues to be the same, and if it has varied it is to reaffirm that Dr. Guzman is the greatest guide and leader of the Peruvian proletariat, without a doubt the most prestigious Marxist-Leninist-Maoist leader in the world, the distinguished theoretician of the revolutionary war. A man and a life dedicated with efficacy to struggle for the liberation of the oppressed masses of Peru. Chairman Gonzalo is the strategist of the victorious people’s war initiated in May 1980.”[xxv]

And by 2004, already disillusioned with his own creation, he had to recall that: “In the new political scene, with Guzman and a handful of leaders imprisoned and on their knees in front of the enemies of the people, it is necessary to study the ideological-political essence of this betrayal. Without fearing the results, we must carefully investigate its origin, its development within the highest levels of the PCP…”[xxvi]

If Arce Borja had a self-critical spirit, he would arrive at the conclusion that a Party of the revolutionary proletariat cannot be built around individuals, around “enlightened leaders,” but only on the basis of a scientific ideology, of cadres with a critical and scientific spirit which permits even the errors and deviations of its own leaders to be corrected in a timely manner. A Party built around a leader feeds into tailism, violates democratic centralism and therefore makes ideological struggle impossible.

What has happened in Nepal is not so different. In “The Worker” No. 6, Oct. 2000, Prachanda states: “And finally, as regards to the question of the role of individual leadership in the revolution our Party has had a known Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position on the issue. The well known formulation of Engels on the clash between collective will & individual will & factor of ‘necessity’ & ‘chance’ in the historical appearance of a leader, & further development on it by Lenin & Mao, has been our ideological & political guide on the question. Accordingly, we have repudiated both the anarchist & bourgeois liberal positions of undermining the role of individual leadership, on the one hand, and the Lin Pioist [sic] position of exaggerating it, on the other, and firmly upheld & grasped a true Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position of acknowledging the necessary role of the individual leader within the revolutionary. collective, operating under a correct system of democratic centralism. In our particular historical case the process of new democratic movement of the past half century & the PW of the past five years has generated a group of revolutionary leaders under the supreme leadership of General Secretary Com. Prachanda. In fact emergence of Com. Prachanda as the overall leader of the revolutionary collective amidst a fierce storm of two-line struggle & class struggle in the past decade, particularly after the reunification of the Party & the preparation & initiation of the historic PW, has itself been a vindication of the law of dialectically interactive relations between the line & the leader. Although the rebelling masses are the ultimate creators of history & the supreme sacrifices of thousands of martyrs of PW can in no way be undermined, the role of the leadership of the Party in general & that of General Secretary Com. Prachanda in particular, in successfully leading the revolution & generating the ‘GTP,’ needs to be acknowledged & established correctly.”[xxvii]

With such brazenness, he distorts Engels to give the traitors a required role in history.

The leadership of the CPN(M), headed by Prachanda, makes reference in different documents to the struggle that has been waged against revisionism but ironically also falls into the ranks of revisionism; a betrayal that was facilitated by the cult of personality created around Prachanda, turning him into the equivalent of guarantor of the victory of the revolution, which doesn’t correspond to historical materialism —it is not great men who make history, but instead history that makes great men. The proletarian revolution is qualitatively different from all prior revolutions in that it is a revolution of the conscious masses and not a result of tailism.

There are plenty of mistakes that every person or leader can commit, but in the realm of principles and at the doorstep of a revolution there are only two paths: bourgeois dictatorship or proletarian dictatorship (in this case in the form of New Democracy), and Prachanda followed the former path.

To wrap up, it is appropriate to exhibit how the cult of personality in the RCP-USA has been cultivated for so many years. The derangement that has been expressed around Avakian is so explicit that his own words are his best condemnation: “How do we really know that Comrade Avakian, the Chair of our Central Committee, is a great revolutionary leader? This is a fair question and one which we should be bold and forthright in answering. We know that ultimately it will be the course of history and the actions of the masses which will bring forth the proof of this. But meanwhile it’s not like there aren’t already many indications!…Nobody does this better than Comrade Avakian.”[xxviii]

“Of all the leaders of our Party, Bob Avakian is the individual leader the Central Committee deems:

  • best able to lead the collectivity of the Central Committee and its Standing Bodies and, in this way and through the collective structures of the Party and its leading bodies, lead the Party and the masses.
  • best able to draw on the Party’s collectivity to distill and concentrate what has come up from below, from the masses of people inside and outside the Party.
  • best able to distill and concentrate the lessons of history and of the revolutionary struggle of the international proletariat in particular.
  • best able to distill and concentrate the most fundamental political, ideological and organizational principles of MLM to date, and to lead in applying them.
  • best able to grasp and consciously wield the key scientific method that is dialectical and historical materialism with regard to every sphere of social practice and theory, in order to chart the uncharted path and continually bring revolutionary work into closer concordance with the objective interests and overall strategic objectives of our class.
  • best able to combine and connect great historical sweep and vision and a developed ideological and methodological grounding with a real sense of the sentiments of the masses and a deep understanding of the problems of the practical revolutionary movement.
  • best able to lead the revolutionary forces of our Party in two-line struggle against revisionism and opportunism and in going against all incorrect tides.
  • best able to set a standard for genuine proletarian internationalism and to lead our Party in carrying out its internationalist responsibilities as one contingent of the international communist movement, as one part of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement.

The greater collectivity that is the RCP’s Central Committee considers that the individual who best meets these criteria—and who has proven this over and over again, including at critical junctures in the history of our Party and the international movement—is clearly Bob Avakian.”[xxix]

The exaggerations of the personality cult around Avakian, which is practically placed on top of the party and the masses, could not be more clear. Nevertheless, at the end of the article they narrow it down: “He is without exaggeration our Party’s single greatest individual resource and weapon.”

And to top it all off, Avakian himself takes up the defense of the mentioned deviation in a talk titled “Meaningful Revolutionary Work” in 2007:

“One important aspect of boldly spreading revolution and communism everywhere is the work of building what we have characterized as a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of Bob Avakian. Now, I recognize that some people (especially among the middle strata, frankly) may find it “immodest” (and perhaps, to some, strangely disturbing) for me to speak about this (and, for god’s sake, to refer to myself in the third person!). But, first of all and fundamentally, “modesty” (or “immodesty”) is not the essential issue, not the heart of the matter. This, like everything else, is a matter of a scientific approach—objectively assessing what is represented by a particular person and their role, their body of work and their method and approach—and it should be viewed and evaluated, by myself or anyone else, in this way and according to these criteria (and, let’s be honest, would those who object to my referring to myself in the third person here really be any less “put off” if I were to talk about “a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of myself”?). No, the essence of the question is: what is objectively represented by this leadership, this body of work and method and approach, and what does this have to do with the larger question of transforming the world?…

“On the foundation of this understanding, actively, energetically, and creatively building a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around Bob Avakian, among growing numbers of people, and enabling them to grasp the crucial importance of engaging with his body of work and method and approach, while taking up the challenge of protecting and defending the person who is bringing this forward and providing this leadership—this is a key part of boldly taking revolution and communism out everywhere. It is one of the key means, one of the main vehicles, we have for doing that. But that is what we are doing, in building this culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization. This has its own particularity, but ultimately and fundamentally it is about—it is in the service of—nothing other than spreading revolution and communism and building a revolutionary movement of masses, consciously taking up the orientation of being emancipators of humanity.”[xxx]

It is quite repugnant that in the name of the most revolutionary doctrine—which expresses the interests of the most revolutionary class in history—so much reactionary nonsense is spewed. If the comrades in the United States continue on the road of building the Party and spreading the ideas of socialism around an individual, without recognizing the fact that the revolution for socialism and communism is a conscious act of the masses and not of mere tailism around a leader, they will have to wait a long time for the construction of a true Revolutionary Communist Party in the U.S. One can predict that behind all this shameless immodesty a betrayal is lying in wait.

These “new theories” of “guiding thoughts” and “new worldviews” are in essence nothing more than the same old theories already defeated by the science of communism. Taken together, these proposals amount to an embarrassing renunciation of Marxist theory that dulls its class character, tramples its essence, and mutilates its universal dialectical development, constraining it to a national development (i.e., bourgeois nationalism). They deform the “party-leaders-masses” relation and promote tailism. For these reasons, they make up a revisionist theory dressed up in Maoist clothing to disarm and confuse the proletariat.

This new form of opportunism put forward by participant Parties or leaders in the RIM is expressed in a concentrated manner in Prachandite revisionism, negatively affecting the Nepalese Revolution and the aim of the RIM in achieving its role of building a Communist International of a New Type.

It is the duty of revolutionary communists to struggle against this new opportunism within the ICM, on the basis of taking stock of historical experience, of a scientific investigation of capitalism in its imperialist phase, and with the aspiration of contributing to the ICM a political and ideological platform that will allow it to create the conditions of theoretical and organizational unity that will crystallize in a new Communist International, without which it will be impossible to advance the proletarian revolution in every country and on a world scale.

It is worth repeating the quote at the start of this article, in which Comrade Francisco Garnica, leader of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist) summed up the point very well in the 1960s:“Committees and not individuals lead the party at every step—and there will not be correct leadership without collective leadership which eliminates the risks of one-man autocratic leadership and guarantees as far as possible a complete analysis of the situations at hand… We have to take advantage of all our intelligence, increase the reasoning capacity of the Party, and prevent a select few from assuming the right to think for the rest.”

Commission of Investigation and Theoretical Struggle

Communist Workers Union (MLM)

Colombia, July 7, 2009

[i] Francisco Garnica was a tireless fighter and one of the leaders of the split with the “vierista” revisionism in the Colombian CP. He was an unforgettable leader of the new Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist), which was founded on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism at the 10th Congress in 1965. [Note by UOC mlm]

[ii] See the document of the CC of the Communist Party of Spain “Impulsar la línea roja en el MCI”, January-March 1998 [Note by UOC mlm]

[iii] MECW 45, pg. 288. Available online at https://michaelharrison.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Volume-45-Marx-and-Engels-1874-1879.pdf

[iv] MECW 50, pg. 303. Available online at https://michaelharrison.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Volume-50-Engels-1892-1895.pdf

[v] Lenin, “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder”. Available online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/index.htm

[vi] Stalin, Letter to Comrade Shatunovsky. August 1930. Available online at https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1930/08/x01.htm

[vii] “On the Question of Stalin—Second Comment on the Open Letter of the CC of the CPSU,” by the Editorial Departments of Honqi and Renmin Ribao, September 13, 1963. Available online: https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/documents/polemic/qstalin.htm

[viii] “The Origin and Development of the Differences Between the Leadership of the CPSU and Ourselves”—Comment on the Open Letter of the CC of the CPSU by the Editorial Departments of Hongqi and Renmin Ribao. September 6 1963. Available online: https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/documents/polemic/cpsu.htm

[ix] Liu Shao-qi, “On the Party”. May 14 1945. Liu Shao-qi Selected Works Vol. 1 pg. 314. Available online: https://bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/LiuShaoqi/SelectedWorksOfLiuShaoqi-V1-Searchable.pdf

[x] Lin Biao, “Report to the Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, 1969. Online: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/lin-biao/1969/04/01.htm

[xi] Lin Biao, “Speech at the Mass Rally Celebrating the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, 1966. Online: https://bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/LinBiao/LinBiao-660818-SpeechCelebratingGPCR.pdf

[xii] Lin Biao, “Speech at the Peking Rally to Receive Revolutionary Teachers and Students From All Parts of China”, August 31 1966. Online: https://bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/LinBiao/LinBiao-660818-SpeechCelebratingGPCR.pdf

[xiii] Lin Biao, “Chairman Mao Has Elevated Marxism-Leninism to a Completely New Stage With Great Talent— Com. Lin Biao’s Letter”. March 11 1966. Online: https://bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/LinBiao/LinBiao-660311-MaoHasElevatedML.pdf

[xiv] Lin Biao, “Speech at the Mass Rally Celebrating the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” August 18 1966. Online: https://bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/LinBiao/LinBiao-660818-SpeechCelebratingGPCR.pdf

[xv] The description of Stalin of the cult of personality as “the bauble of weak-minded intellectuals” is so precise, that the same Arce Borja that deified Abimael Guzman, today is his raging detractor, no longer even recognizing his important role as the leader of the PCP. [Note by UOC mlm]

[xvi] “Fundamental Documents of the PCP” 1988. Online: https://foreignlanguages.press/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PCP-Fundamental-Documents.pdf

[xvii] “International Line”, PCP. 1988. Online: https://foreignlanguages.press/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PCP-International-Line.pdf

[xviii] Revista Contradicción No. 6 pg. 51. Online: https://bannedthought.net/Colombia/Contradiccion/Contradiccion-06.pdf [Unfortunately, the uploaded PDF seems to only have 22 pages]

[xix] “THE WORKER”, organ of the CPN(Maoist), from October 2000. Online: https://bannedthought.net/Nepal/Worker/Worker-06/NepalPWandSynthesis-Prachanda-W06.htm 

[xx] Raymond Lotta, “Socialism is Much Better than Capitalism and Communism will be a Far Better World”, n.d. Online: https://revcom.us/strs/set-the-record-straight.html

[xxi] The Colombian comrades date the letter to May, however in the English translation cited below the letter is dated July 20 [Translator’s Note]

[xxii] Open Letter to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Communist Party of India (Maoist), July 20, 2009. Online: https://bannedthought.net/India/CPI-Maoist-Docs/Nepal/OpenLetterToCPNM-090720.pdf

[xxiii] Francisco Garnica, Towards a revolutionary policy in organizational matters [Hacia una política revolucionaria en materia de organización]. 1965. Translation ours. Online [Spanish]: https://cedema.org/digital_items/3679

[xxiv] [Translator’s Note]: El Diario Internacional. Newspaper affiliated with the PCP, edited by Arce Borja.

[xxv] Diario Internacional, “Who is Abimael Guzman?”. Translation ours. Online [Spanish]: https://michaelharrison.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Quien-es-el-Presidente-Gonzalo.pdf

[xxvi] Diario Internacional, No. 133 2004. Translation ours. Unable to locate online version.

[xxvii] ‘The Worker’, op.cit.

[xxviii] Revolutionary Worker #825, Oct. 1 1995. Online: https://revcom.us/a/firstvol/825/revolutionary_leadership_points.htm [The Colombian comrades cite this as appearing in 2001]

[xxix] Revolutionary Worker #825, Oct. 1 1995. Online: https://revcom.us/en/a/firstvol/825/revolutionary_leadership.htm

[xxx] ‘Meaningful Revolutionary Work’. 2007. Online: https://revcom.us/en/avakian/makingrevolution2/index.html