This “open letter” is both belated and contrived to commemorate an anniversary that may have no significance outside what Phil Ochs sang as “a small circle of friends”.That anniversary is that a decade has passed this month since work began on EROL – the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line.
Sparked by a conversation on that gloriously sunny day at the London Radical Book Fair the question was raised “Why the effort on EROL”; after all, as you rightly commented revisionism isn’t going anywhere. The point has been made since the mid-1960s that the identifier of “anti-revisionism” is a politically passé term since Maoism has now superseded the need for using such a term as a prefix. Underlying the question was the thought that, given the ongoing struggles and need to rebuild a movement, was this really a furrow worthy ploughing? It is an argument that deserved greater reflection than given in that moment.
The trajectory of modern revisionism hit a brick wall: although even with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are still on the English left, aging remnants along the British Road arguing the same failed politics, while Trotskyism thrashes in its last stages unable to shake off its legacy as the failed competitor in a struggle nearly a century old. The only advanced this century has been the stalled revolutionary struggles in the Global South largely led by Maoist forces who drew their initial inspiration from the anti-revisionist struggle associated with the Albanian and Chinese communist parties. It is that history that EROL addresses but not from the perspective of bourgeois scholarship or sectarian belief that one red thread persisted throughout its history.
What have we spent nearly ten years building is an archive of revolutionary endeavour. Cynics claim that ‘history belongs to the victors! Don’t belief a word of it! History belongs to those who keep records and tell their story.
The function of making the record accessible has provided an access point to a political trend and argumentation and built a foundational backstory that illustrates the legacy and past attempts to tackle the strategic and tactical challenges facing a revolutionary movement.
EROL focus is on document publication – a low priority in conventional academic and commercial publishing. Initially encouraged by a non-sectarian American Trotskyist (thank you David), the bulk of the administrative duties and political tone of EROL since started up in 2009 has been borne by an equally industrious and non-sectarian veteran of the American New Communist Movement as the Maoists were known (thank you Paul).
By the early 2000s, very little of the anti-revisionist record was easily available in English. The entire experience was in danger of languishing in the margins, being largely forgotten. For the most part, the documents in question had been published in in books or periodicals at the time of the birth and demise of the anti-revisionist movement.
Today there is no equivalent resource seen in the incredible wealth and diversity of items posted by EROL. No pay walls or subscriptions here – a true product of unpaid voluntary labour for the greater good, it allows access and has more holdings than even a National Library collection of record. The digital medium makes somethings possible that would be very difficult in the physical world such as the international co-operation and co-ordination for such political depositories such as the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line that allows access to material that is scattered, rare and uncatalogued.
The internet provided a medium for the development of an accessible collection that initially was constructed from the personal resources of the EROL team, and subsequently built from contributions and further research facilitated by the growth of relevant websites.
This site is purposeful, in the words of a committed Canadian blogger:
“it is important to examine the strengths and limitations of revolutionary organizations that were once significant so as to avoid repeating past errors. Often we tend to repeat the past’s mistakes, even when we think we are forging a new path, and there is sometimes little to know historical memory over an experience that can and should teach us something about how to organize as communists now.”
[JMP, Learning From Documents of Past Struggle (continued) May 31, 2013 ]
The transnational experience of the anti-revisionist movement offers the possibility of assessing the experienced gained in the historical process of development, growth and implosion of the emergent Marxist-Leninist movement. EROL goes some way to make this available and whether that experience of ML groups and parties in the advanced capitalist countries is utilised in future party-building, it is clear that changes comes from within.Fracturing of the CRCU the pioneering ML organisation in Britain, as charted in this research note, signposts some of the internal factors that contributed to its diminutive existence.
As best we can, we try to pass on and, where necessary, rediscover this laboured past and make it available for a new generation to weigh and assess. EROL’s publishing work aimed to do this for a small but significant fragment of our revolutionary heritage.
IN providing primary material, EROL reduces a dependency on partisan historical interpreters and provides a basis for assessment of rival explanations based on direct access to source materials. EROL goes someway to illustrate the inherent complexity of political action, the validity of argument and interpretation and the contributions and failures of the movement. Even without an editorial narrative it illustrates that political struggle involves far more than following a single line or leader. Navigating the ideas and actions presented by the various actors in the drama of the anti-revisionist movement enriches an understanding of the struggles of the age.
The contributions made in the early phase of the anti-revisionist period to forging and forcing democratic, social, economic’ and cultural progress has never been adequately recognised or appreciated. The shortcomings were explained by the paucity of material. That is no longer the case. The rarity of surviving copies, limited distribution, the costs of acquisition, the preservation of the records of that anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist trend are all barriers that EROL dismantles.
Most of what was included would probably not have been saved in archives or re-published elsewhere. There laid out in their own words, they can be read, studied, analysed and evaluated. Not least, by any means, in redressing the want of educational and study material, has been the contribution of EROL – an online archive accessible, saveable, useable for activist, the curious, enthusiastic scholars and reluctant students pursuing assignments, will find their sources wherever they may be.
There is a duality in such an archive, not to survey the past, but in our need to look forward and consider where we are going. For the 21st-century reader, this history can provokes reflection about the tactics and strategy of struggle, about the nature of working class advanced, about the shape of communism in a different national sections. The echoes of past politics are played out in the debates and discussions of today, and knowledge of those previously contested position can inform the debates of today. As EROL stalwart, Paul Saba noted in his insightful review of Max Elbaum’s history of the movement;
“Many in the NCM considered themselves too busy making history to spend much time studying history’s lessons. As a result, mistakes were made, wrong directions taken, that otherwise might have been avoided.”
[Lessons from One Left to the Next: Revolution in the Air Reissued. Viewpoint magazine July 19, 2018]
Perhaps there are too few reminiscence pieces and the extensive collection of original documents, internal and those once in the public domain draw upon what is available and there is a monolingual basis in its presentation. There are other sites in specific languages yet EROL has always had an internationalist intention, hence the different national sections.With 19 separate national sections providing information in English on, and primary documents from, anti-revisionist movements, organisations and parties, the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line is the first web stop for any historical investigation of global Maoism. EROL maintains this history that had faded into obscurity. In providing the source material from the movement (as Canadian editor Malcolm pointed out) we do not want to force conclusions on people from that period but to provide documents so that those studying them can draw their own. EROL does accept original contributions on the history of the ML movement but it would be a different forum to undertake the task to explain mistake individuals clearly identified from that history, what lines were worth pursuing and how struggles exposed the weaknesses of the organisations involved.