First Issued: Internal Bulletin #1, July 23, 1973.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
EROL Note: This article was submitted to the PL leadership prior to PL’s Third Convention and published in a post-convention Internal Bulletin #1. After the Convention, Dennis King was expelled from PL.
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I disagree with the basic thrust of the convention discussion bulletins. The “rightwing drift”, if it exists at all, is not the main problem in the current period. It is being emphasized with increasing hysteria because our leaders and members are afraid to deal with the really urgent dangers that threaten our party with extinction. These dangers are sectarianism and inner-party bureaucracy. Because of these twin problems PL is not growing in influence among the masses. And the quality of its internal life has sharply declined (as proven, among other things, by the lack of creative analysis in the convention bulletins so far).
A communist party can only follow a mistaken path for a limited period before quantity changes into quality. Either it corrects its erroneous tactics or an irremedial degeneration sets in. PL is getting close to that point of no return. Our convention can either enthrone sectarianism and bureaucracy as permanent fixtures (which will probably kill the party), or carry out a far-reaching transformation of our program, our mass work, our party structure, our press, and of the ingrained habits and mentality of our leaders and members, the narrowmindedness, arrogance and fear that keep the majority of our members isolated from the masses, and the majority of our leaders isolated from both from the masses and from the party rank-and-file.
The following are the most essential points on which the convention should act:
The main resources of our party at present are going into building parallel organizations: our own party-led pseudo-mass movements such as WAM and SDS (the post-split SDS). In spite of large sums of money and herculean energies being spent on conventions for these organizations, they remain – and will always remain –mere front groups, outside the mainstream of the class struggle and with no real life apart from their party nursemaids. The conventions and demonstrations held by these groups–and the leaflets and newspapers issued in their name–spin a web of illusion. PL members are enabled to say, “we pulled out 700 people for the latest WAM convention,”–but how much is this really worth? The CP, SWP, and Labor Committee all claim equal or greater numbers for their front group conventions. Meanwhile, there is a mass movement out in the mainstream of American society comprising millions of working people. Where are we in relation to it? The minor advantage of conducting agitation through our front groups is more than offset by the disadvantages: they have become an out-and-out diversion from the real task of burrowing into the already-existing mass organizations in American society –the unions, churches, neighborhood political clubs, parents associations, daycare centers, pressure groups, etc. which already embody (in spite of bad leaders) the reform aspirations of the people.
WAM and SDS, in comparison to this vast mass movement, are inconsequential. Worse, they are a diversion and an illusion. I propose that we abolish them and throw our main energies into the already existing center-right (mainstream) organizations and movements.
I propose that we work patiently and flexibly within the latter, for however long it takes, to get ourselves into a position of real influence.
This is the only way we will ever be able to move millions of people and recruit to the party experienced fighters and people’s leaders, not just isolated fledglings.
A precedent for this already exists–namely, PL’s abolishing of the May 2nd Movement to enter the old (“mainstream”) SDS. Just as that shifting of energy led to a hundredfold increase (albeit shortlived) of our party’s influence on the campuses, so a similar shifting of energy today could lead to a major increase of our party’s influence throughout American society.
But why advocate abolishing SDS and WAM? Why not simply call for a “stepping-up of mainstream work” while continuing to build our own groups? Wouldn’t this be the tactful way to phrase it, the way that will keep everyone happy?
Such a “compromise solution” has been advocated quite often in the past by the leadership of PL; it has never amounted to anything more than lip-service to the needs of mainstream work–and a continuation of our onesided (but comfortable) emphasis on front groups.
The reasons for this failure have been fourfold: 1) the top-level party leadership lacked a historic vision of the possibilities of mainstream work; 2) the compromise solutions provided neither the vision nor the psychological shock necessary to overcome the membership and lower-level leadership’s inertia on this question; 3) our membership was posed with the tactically ridiculous task of entering unions and other mainstream organizations in order to build not the unions, but the party front groups; 4) anybody who began to have success in mainstream work was immediately put under pressure by the lower-level leadership responsible for the front-group work to bring his base into their front-group (to cover up the failure of the latter).
I stick by my guns: abolish all front groups.
Our party constantly endeavours to implant socialist ideas among the masses; this is always essential–to downplay it would be the rankest economism.
We must make a distinction, however, between implanting socialist ideas and implanting particular reform demands and tactics. The former are a matter of absolute principle; the latter are entirely dependent upon the state of development of the mass movement and our relative strength within it.
PL has these two types of “consciousness-raising” confused. It treats its own reform ideas (30-for-40, smashing racist genetics,etc.) as matters of absolute principle and one-sidedly emphasizes them to the exclusion of the reform ideas of mainstream groups. The latters’ ideas may be quite as valid as ours (in the sense of being objectively opposed to racism and capitalism)–and also may be much closer than ours to the daily needs of the masses. This is seemingly not important, however: when the mainstream groups refuse to drop what they are already doing and concentrate on 30 for 40, PL goes into a pout and launches a new front-group activity–with the intent of “proving we’re right” but with the effect of diverting more of our own members from the mainstream.
Some people believe that 30-for-40 is a scientific estimate of how the mass movement will develop in America in the coming years. If so, I have yet to see the controlled research experiments that prove it. Mass movements are, after all, mercurial and swiftly developing and very, very complicated. There is no evidence that Marxism-Leninism, at its present stage of development, is capable of predicting precise slogans with any great accuracy. Certainly PL has been caught napping quite often in the past, and has had to enter mass movements already launched by other forces–pulling cadres for this purpose out of dead-end efforts which had been based on our own predictions.
Let’s face it, comrades. 30-for-40 is at best an educated guess as to how the mass movement can and should develop. If we place all our eggs in this one basket, we will be very foolish. We should instead recognize that there are a thousand and one valid reform demands afoot. We should develop mental flexibility. We should strive to be everywhere, within all these struggles, like guerrillas. We should strike wherever the masses are most receptive at any moment. We should accept the mass movement as something which, at this stage, we cannot and do not need to control: the masses, and many of their reform leaders, are quite capable (as they have shown time and again) of deciding on and advancing reasonably good demands. What they are not capable of doing is advancing socialist ideas or the intricate tactics of overcoming racism within the mass movement; this, not the compulsive pre-selection of issues, is the proper role of our party today.
Of course, PL can and should increase its control over the “issue-selection process” as the revolution approaches–but (and here is the main point) we must first develop some real power within the mainstream mass movement. You can’t function as a full-blown general staff until you have an army.
I would issue the above adjurations even if I had learned from a crystal ball that 30-for-40 and banning Banfield were the key slogans. Why? Because we don’t yet have the strength to convince the masses. And the only way we are going to get the strength is through a willingness to enter the mass movement on its present level, learn from as well as teach the people within that movement, and gradually move it to a higher level. When I pick up an SDS newspaper and see that almost every article is geared to the single slogan of fighting racist genetic theories and textbooks, I can only shake my head in dismay. What about the organizing of campus workers? What about rolling back tuition increases? What about extending open admissions? What about the fight to build tenant unions and halt evictions in university communities? What about the many popular environmental issues? What about the radical election campaigns in Ann Arbor and Berkeley? What about day-care for campus workers and graduate students? What about the movement to support the Equal Rights Amendment? What about student volunteer projects, law communes, etc.? Don’t these and many other activities, struggles and issues merit concern? Can’t the fight against racism be developed organically within these movements?
We must stop misinterpreting Road to Revolution III! This document, as everyone knows, condemns any form of alliance with the liberal wing of the capitalist class. But people misread it to mean that we should not support any reform demand that also happens to be supported by the liberal bosses. As if supporting the reform demand means ipso facto making an alliance.
Many of the reforms pushed by liberal bosses, however, are good reforms (or have a good aspect), regardless of the bosses’ motives. For instance, let’s suppose the liberals in Chicago introduce stringent air-pollution control legislation. If we sit on the sidelines, and the legislation fails to pass, then the working class loses (does even the most sectarian PLer believe that workers are fond of smog?). If we sit on the sidelines, and the legislation passes, then the liberals are able to hog all the credit and increase their ideological grip on the public. Again, the working class loses. Afterwards, of course, the bosses devise a way to make the working class bear the cost of the new smokestack filters, etc. In a sense, one could still say its a bona fide reform (better higher taxes than more emphysema) but why not attempt to counter such a move–why not launch demonstrations, lobbying efforts, etc. around a slogan of making the bosses bear the cost. Obviously, this would only be possible if we had influence among environmentalists, the people who are already committed to fighting around the pollution issue (if we can’t move them, we can’t move other segments of the public–whose attention is distracted by a thousand and one other issues and outrages on the job and in the community). But remember: in our hypothetical example we stood on the sidelines. We failed to establish a communist presence in the environmental movement at the point when we were needed the most (i.e., when the original legislation was being proposed and fought for). So the ordinary, honest supporters of pollution control now won’t listen to our plea to continue the fight. The workers end up paying higher taxes or prices, and Challenge ends up gloating: “See, we told you that’s what the liberals would do! we told you ecology was a phony issue”–a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one!
Now lets take some real life examples:
1) The environmental movement emerged in 1968-9 as a nationwide phenomena. The ruling class helped build it, but real people nevertheless got involved around real, anti-capitalist issues (the California oil spills, for instance). We could have played a role, won some credit in the eyes of millions of working class and middle class people who believe that clean air and beaches are important. Instead, we sneered–while other forces jumped in and won credit for a series of significant reforms.
Score: Ruling Class 1, Progressive Labor 0.
2) An Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress recently and was ratified by many states; it needs victory in just a few more states to become law. This amendment, if it passes, will bring urgently needed reforms to American society (in its legal implications, it goes as far towards equality for women as most of the revisionist countries have ever gone). Yet the women’s lib groups apparently aren’t quite skillful or powerful enough to overcome a last minute conservative counter-attack. PL could play a major roll at this juncture, and guarantee an ongoing influence for itself in the women’s rights movement. But we choose to sit this one out.
Score: Ruling Class 2, Progressive Labor 0.
3) Nixon is suddenly exposed while in the midst of a lot of police-state type shenanigans. The greatest “scandal” in U.S. political history ensues. The working class public watches the Senate hearings on TV–and gets plenty angry. But does PL launch a mass movement around Watergate, as French socialists once did round the Dreyfuss affair? Do we organize mass marches to impeach Nixon, to get the U.S, out of Cambodia, to demand government reforms that would slow down or halt the police-state trend? Do we take the urgently needed steps that Brezhnev ordered Gus Hall and the troika not to take? No, our newspaper takes a negative attitude again (ah, what’s the difference...it’s just a squabble between new money and old money...its only diverting the workers’ attention from 30-for-40...). Well, maybe there is a squabble between liberal and conservative bosses–but what the hell? We could have moved vast numbers of people! Instead, we sit it out, letting the N.Y. Times take all the credit for checking police-statism.
Score: Ruling Class 3, Progressive Labor 0.
One reason we give for not getting involved in such issues as the above is that they are “too middle class” or “not sufficiently working class.” One wonders how such mystical judgments are arrived at. Our party’s top leaders have been out of the shops for ten years. Many of our new leaders have never been near a shop. None of us study the ruling class opinion polls (which do tell what the working class is interested in at a given moment–the bourgeoisie is curious, even if we aren’t). None of us think of organizing our own PLP or WAM opinion polls. So who the hell knows which issues are “sufficiently working class?” We attacked the “counterculture” for years, saying it would turn off workers. Meanwhile, an entire generation of young workers joined this counter-culture and developed an intellectual curiosity and cultural sophistication (from ruling class movies, television and rock music, ironically) that Challenge hasn’t even begun to catch up with!
When a party member enters a mainstream group, after a long sojourn in party front-groups or inner-party leadership roles, he is not unlike a high school football star going off to college, and discovering, suddenly, that he is a nobody, a lowly freshman. He steps from a comfortable little world in which PLP is regarded with respect–to a world in which PLP is either unknown, regarded as irrelevant, or positively disliked. He steps from a world in which leadership had been handed to him on a silver platter–to a world in which leadership must be earned. He steps from a world that is controlled by PLP–to a world where PLP has no control, and where you “pay in blood” for being sectarian and arrogant. He steps from a world in which everyone thinks alike and follows the cues of the cheerleaders–to a world that is ornery, cantankerous and full of life.
What happens then? His Challenge selling falls off; his recruitment of study group members slackens; he fails to bring his quota of people to party demonstrations. Why? Some observers would say its culture shock. Others would say its the right-wing drift. I would say that its the normal reflection of the realities of the situation. You can’t measure mainstream work by the same standards of success as front-group work or independent party work.
Our main goal in mainstream groups, at this stage, should not be to recruit a lot of people to the party and win the mass membership to revolutionary politics. Firstly, because its not yet possible on a significant scale. (America is not in a revolutionary situation; the masses are not spontaneously yearning for communist leadership.) Secondly, because trying to put party-building first would only divert us from the realistic tasks–the tasks which, if accomplished properly, will lay the basis for vigorous party-building at a later stage.
What are these realistic tasks? To win the confidence of the people inside these movements–their confidence in us as persons, and their confidence in us as leaders of reform struggles. This is the kind of influence it is possible for us to have in the mainstream at the present time. The influence of PL’s strategy for revolution will emerge over a period of years.
Winning the people’s confidence in us as persons is relatively easy, if we are friendly and sincere. Winning their confidence in us as tactical leaders is not so easy. At first we will be fighting alongside them and advising them, but not leading them (except in rare cases). To really become part of their leadership (i.e., part of the honest element in their leadership) we will have to prove our consistency in and devotion to the reform cause at hand. Furthermore, we will have to prove our competence–by producing results in the work, and producing them over and over again.
Here we come to the real problem. PL members can only develop influence in mass organizations if they develop effectiveness in the fight for reforms. But most PL members don’t really think reforms are important! And even when they do, they are so amateurish and sectarian in their tactics that they can’t produce the goods.
My position is this: Reforms are important because the revolution is a long way off, the people are suffering, and anything we can do to relieve their and our suffering should be done. Reforms are possible because other forces win them, quite often, and the only reason PL doesn’t is because of its sectarianism and amateurishness.
What does a serious approach to reforms mean? It means studying the issues that relate to your mass organization with the thoroughness of a Ralph Nader. It means looking for the weak points in the system–where something can actually be won. It means not sneering at opportunities for winning small or secondary or easy victories. It means using the entire arsenal of methods available under bourgeois democracy: not just mass struggle and symbolic actions, but also the more “respectable” methods: lobbying, electoral work, public relations ploys, courtroom maneuvers, boycotts. It means not using the “respectable” methods in a shame-faced way but actually mastering them. It means being infinitely detailed and imaginative and realistic in the formulation of one’s program. It means charting out long range plans for winning a particular reform and then sticking to one’s guns, not giving up after a single splash.
People will say to me: “Aren’t we already doing this? Look at the 30-for-40 referendum in New York.” In my opinion, this referendum is just another case of amateurishness. First, because we are conducting it through a front group, in isolation from the mainstream movements. Second, because 30-for-40 isn’t close enough to the daily needs of the people (or to their political concerns–Watergate, etc.) to really grip them. Third, because the campaign is purely agitational–even if the referendum wins, it will only be a symbolic expression of opinion, and I don’t think most working people are interested in moving; on something that can’t lead to a concrete victory. Fourth, because the demand, even as pure agitation, is unrealistic for a single city: If actually implemented (as the ruling class in Berkeley shrewdly pointed out), it would only cause Industry to leave that city, destroying its tax base and creating further unemployment.
On the credit side of the ledger: One reason the party got involved in this referendum campaign was because our leadership believes–tentatively–that we should be involved in electoral work. I agree–but if we’re going to do it, let’s go all the way. Our vacillation and timidity about electoral work (which has been going on for several years) only produces an oatmeal mush. Serious electoral work means running candidates (or supporting someone else’s candidate) and learning how to make use of Democratic party primaries (as the Black Panthers are doing–although I don’t condone their opportunist program).
This sounds obvious, yet it is one of our party’s vexed problems. Our leadership simply does not understand the advantages of keeping the same people in one neighborhood, one industry or shop, or on one campus for 10-20 years (indeed, for a lifetime). Only through this can our members develop the all-sided, subtle and deep understanding of issues, organizations and personalities (and the encyclopedic knowledge of local “lore”) that is so essential to giving mass leadership in a particular spot. Only through this can our members develop ties of trust and confidence not just with a few people, on the basis of close friendship, but with wide circles, based on consistent work and service and mutual obligations formed in a long series of community or shop struggles.
Building a base (in terms of objective ties and also in terms of one’s subjective understanding) is like raising a child: it takes ten or twenty years to do the job properly. And if you’re not going to do the job properly, there’s no sense in doing it at all.
Keeping people in one spot is also important for the development of the party’s line. Indeed, it’s like having a controlled laboratory of the mass work. Such people can observe year after year the effect of every twist and turn in the party’s line on the same neighborhood or shop, the same mass organizations, the same personalities and local “types.” They can develop, thereby, an intuitive knowledge of what we can and can’t “sell”–an intuitive knowledge that would be impossible if they had been flitting around from one area of work or leadership task to another.
The bourgeoisie understands this very well: their politicians and. union hacks stay in one spot, even if the “base” is relatively mobile. I think we communists should cultivate hundreds of permanent local cadres; I think our leaders should recognize that to move a “permanent”–except for direst of reasons–is like cutting the heart out of the party. 0ur war with the bourgeoisie is not a guerrilla war, but a positional war: we’ve got to outlast them. Every time a person who has begun to develop deep roots and an intuitive understanding in a particular spot moves, that is a victory for the bourgeoisie. Every time a young cadre who is talented and could become a “permanent” is allowed to run all over the city playing “leader,” that is also a victory for the bourgeoisie.
The process of being transmuted into a “permanent” is a change of quantity into quality that takes a few years. It involves (among other things) the development of a fierce loyalty to the neighbors or co-workers with whom one is associated year in and year out–and I don’t just means loyalty to a few friends but to the wider circles as well.
What are the reasons our members leave a spot before this transmutation can take place? Or, more tragically, after it takes place?
1) They leave because the party needs them for leadership on a higher level (which isolates them from the very thing that might make them really competent leaders in the long run);
2) They leave because the party needs them to open up a new city or region;
3) They leave because of personal problems (usually the party doesn’t encourage this–yet doesn’t fight vigorously against it, either);
4) They stay put geographically (in the same apartment) but move into another area of work (from community to student or trade union work, for instance)} this is the same thing as moving to another city–staying put, to my way of thinking, means–staying put all the way, in a single area of political concentration.
5) They leave because the party put them in the wrong spot in the first place (a student in basic industry, for instance). This is the only universally valid reason for leaving.
The first four reasons are occasionally valid (in one out of twenty cases, perhaps). Usually, however, the benefits to be gained by shifting a “permanent” are more than outweighed by the ties, local knowledge, etc. that are lost. (As to the gaining of varied experiences: the opportunity is present, in any good spot, for an enterprising party member to participate over the years in dozens of forms of political strife and to meet hundreds of social types. A single shop or neighborhood is like a drop of pond water seen under a microscope–a seething cauldron of problems and complexities that could challenge one’s intellect for a lifetime.) Unfortunately, most of the pressure to move is directed at the most talented people in the party, the people most capable of building something in one spot. I say: If they are needed for higher levels of leadership, let them stay in their spot and do their inner-party leading on a part-time basis. If they are needed for another city, forget the other city! Quality in a few–even just one or two–areas is better than ciphers in a dozen areas. “Permanents” can set the sort of example in mass work that will eventually spread the party like a prairie fire elsewhere.
Just as we think of permanent individuals, I think we should begin to consider the question of permanent clubs. A party club is most valuable if its members have ties of trust among one another, ties of the sort that can only develop over a period of years. Thus, if a club has problems, the leadership should try to keep it together, and encourage it to work things out over the long haul. How can people develop mutual trust and confidence without occasionally getting into squabbles. The constant juggling of club memberships inhibits the development of exemplary collectives which can embody (on a higher and more comprehensive level) the same qualities as the individual “permanent.”
As a result of our sectarianism and isolation from the mainstream mass movements, we have mostly recruited individuals who are themselves semi-isolated and sectarian. The assumption has always been that they would change, once inside the party, by “ideological struggle.” This is an unwarranted assumption. Ideology, at this stage of the game, may have the power to change people’s political opinions and organizational affiliations; it does NOT have the power (except in rare cases) of transforming the lifelong habits and characters of individuals. If someone is naturally isolated and lacking in initiative, they will stay that way (or only change over a ten or twenty year period). Perhaps this would not be so it society was in a process of rapid upheaval, with icons being smashed on all sides. Perhaps this would not be so if bourgeois ideology had suffered a strategic weakening (which it has not, either in society as a whole or in day-to-day relations within the party). Perhaps this would not be so if our “natural sectarians” were surrounded on all sides by loving, helping collectives of friends, co-workers and relatives–all embued with socialist consciousness. Such conditions, however, do not yet exist.
We must face the facts: the type of people we are recruiting are not, by and large, going to be able to have a significant impact on mainstream mass movements; i.e., to become people’s leaders. The ability to be a people’s leader is a matter of pre-existing aptitude, of special combinations of personality, character, intelligence, integrity, fighting spirit, initiative, spontaneous love of people, etc. that people bring into the party with them. We must find and recruit people who already, in large measure, possess these qualities.
The best way to find them is among people already involved in mainstream struggles, issues and organizations, usually on a consistent basis. (This is one touchstone of their potential as communists–the fact that they didn’t wait for us to organize them before getting involved.) We must realize, however, that these people are already committed to the struggles, issues and organizations they are in (this commitment is another touchstone). We can’t get at them by requesting that they drop what they are doing and join WAM or the 30-for-40 referendum campaign. We’ve got to join the struggle already dear to them. We’ve got to develop ties of mutual obligation, trust and friendship while helping them develop these struggles. We’ve got to be willing to learn from them as well as teach them.
Unfortunately, most PL members are looking for people that they can involve in a front-group activity. This means their attention is directed away from the already-committed people we so desperately need. This means their attention is focused on isolated people and people lacking in initiative–people who are waiting to be told what to in.
But this is not the only problem: Natural leaders tend to be relative, mature and realistic in the approach to life: they also tend to ha a (already) a great deal of experience–often more than any of us. Our party’s newspaper and sectarian tactics appear kooky and even infantile to these people. They may work with individual PL members (and respect these individuals); they may come to party events out of curiosity or a sense of personal obligation to their friend in the party; they will not, however, join the party. As an organization, it lacks credibility to them. They will only join it when it takes serious steps to change its sectarianism.
Perhaps the reader thinks I’m exaggerating? I believe too many of our members and leaders have become so isolated that they have forgotten how ordinary people think and feel. They simply don’t realize the harm done by the jargon in our newspaper, by the bloodthirsty posturing and posing, by the childishness of scattering swastikas all over the paper, and by the tactical reflection of all this nonsense in our mass work. (See the section of this paper that deals with Challenge.)
Recruiting more natural fighters and people’s leaders is a life-and-death matter for the party. Not only because they are the path to influence in the mass movements, but also because they are the only force that can prevail over the creeping glacier of bureaucratism in our party. To get them, we’ve got to make momentous changes in our tactics and style, all down the line.
I do NOT, however, think we should close party membership to people who are personally isolated, etc. The fact is that making a revolution is a many-sided process which can use hundreds of types of skills. Recruiting semi-isolated people is only a danger when they are the main type you are recruiting. If we recruit some people’s leaders, the latter will be leaven in the bread and may even be able to transform some of our semi-isolated members through careful advice and guidance and through the benefit of their experience. One thing is certain, our present lower-level leaders (who are themselves often isolated) will never transform anybody through the currently popular tactics of commandism, psychological bullying, and quasi-religious exhortation.
The main way in which the masses know the party, as an organization, is through its press. For this reason, it is urgent that we transform Challenge from a sectarian-communist paper into a mass-communist paper. The idea expressed in one of the previous convention bulletins that a paper cannot be both communist and mass at the same time is one of the most pernicious ideas ever advanced in our party–what it really says is that communism should never aspire to be more than a sect. Transforming Challenge is the main link in the chain in the fight against sectarianism!
People say that the main reason Challenge sales have dropped is because of the right-wing drift among the members, who have stopped selling hard enough. And that the solution is more exhortation by the leadership. This is a fundamental miscalculation (as proved by the fact that it hasn’t worked, even though the exhortations have constantly escalated in ferocity over the past two years).
The real problem with respect to Challenge sales is Challenge itself. Most ordinary people don’t like it. They read it once, twice, and then stop. (If this wasn’t true–if we didn’t have such a high readership turnover–then we could easily have maintained our 100,000 circulation figure.) Even our small base of steady readers aren’t really enthusiastic about the paper. Many of them buy it out of loyalty to the party, or friendship, or respect for the reform militancy of the PL member in their shop, rather than because they really want to read it. As a result, it has very little political impact on them; i.e., it doesn’t build the party.
Only by transforming Challenge will we be able to turn one-shot or occasional buyers into steady buyers! Only by transforming Challenge will we be able to turn steady buyers into steady readers! Only by transforming Challenge will we be able to turn steady readers into devoted, avid readers whose entire world view is step by step moved to the left through its influence! And only through setting in motion this entire process will we be able to build a circulation in the hundreds of thousands and eventually the millions.
Some people say the problem is the style of Challenge. I think we have to look much deeper than that.
The main thing that comes across to the average Challenge buyer is not our party’s political line, but the sectarian approach to life with which our political line has gotten so hopelessly entangled. The party leadership, and most party members, are deeply isolated from the mainstream mass movements in America, and from the daily aspirations, thoughts and emotions of the average worker and student. The convergence of this objective isolation with the subjective sharpness of our line, in the consciousness of our leaders and members, produces a peculiar distortion of consciousness (the “PL disease”). The main aspect of this distorted consciousness is not the sharp (and generally correct) political line, but the isolation–and the bourgeois ideology connected with the isolation– which twist the line into a travesty of itself (so that the defense of the D. of P. becomes a defense of Golda’s moustache).
Challenge is written and edited by people with this distorted consciousness–and reproduces it with photographic precision. The average man in the street (already afflicted with his own type of craziness) is either turned off, or just puzzled. As we said above, he buys the paper once, or twice, and then stops buying it.
Example: Challenge presents a visionary world in which everything is front-line struggle–because that is all we think about. Meanwhile, the average worker is living in a world in which he is very rarely on the front lines. He may have an interest in what goes on there, but he also has an interest in a great variety of other things.
Example: Challenge presents a dream world in which the most important news events are the picket lines of PL and its isolated front groups–because this is what we wish the masses were interested in. Meanwhile, out in the mainstream, plenty of forces are hitting on things a lot heavier than SDS’s anti-Jensen campaign–things which go unreported, not only because our party is isolated from them, but also because we persist in excusing our isolation (by saying the other forces are unimportant, or represent a dead end, or have rotten leadership, etc.).
Example: Challenge assumes a dream world in which the average man in the street is like Wally Lindner i.e., has a deep, scientific interest in analysing the details of minor shop struggles around the country in order to apply them in his own situation. In fact, no such interest exists (although, hopefully, it will one day). We fill the paper with detailed accounts of this or that local contract negotiation or union sell-out, and nobody reads these accounts (except the people in the shop concerned–who could get it all from a leaflet).
These are three glaring examples–but our distortion of consciousness, like any disease, produces a thousand and one minor symptoms and, again, these are reflected in Challenge–in its strident style, its kooky headlines, its heavy-handed jargon, and the parrot-like repetitiousness of its articles.
Isolation feeds the distortion of consciousness; the distortion of consciousness feeds the isolation; at a certain point, quantity changes into quality and the desperate edge of fanaticism emerges. The leadership announces not that we’re going to return to reality, integrate with the mainstream mass movement, and start seriously educating people in the program of R.R.III. No, it announces (in relation to Challenge) that we’re going to escalate “sharpness” (i.e., intensify isolation). Furthermore, it announces that the workers are deficient in class hatred and that we’re going to instill them with it via Challenge cartoons (as if class hatred can be fostered by cartoons anymore than true love can be promoted by pornography).
But even if Challenge would purge itself of all this sectarianism, we still would not be left with a paper whose circulation could soar into the hundreds of thousands and which could eventually become the Daily Challenge.
The paper is not only sectarian; it is amateurish. The bulk of the articles are written by people in local clubs who have no training in professional journalism. These articles are worked over– and the remainder of the articles are written–in a central office in New York, where the staff also has no training in professional journalism.
Now a lot of people think that the idea of professionalism is revisionist. Let me forestall them: I believe that policy decisions under socialism should be made by the masses, not by cliques of experts. I believe that experts should live like ordinary people. But I do not believe that society can dispense with experts–on the contrary, under socialism everyone should gradually become an expert in some field or other.
Challenge needs a professional staff; it also needs to decrease its reliance on locally-written articles. We are not living in Lenin’s Russia. American working people today are deluged on all sides by well-written professional journalism. They are accustomed to this high level of skill. They are accustomed to lively, vivid, often humorous articles. They are accustomed to the “human interest” angle. They are accustomed to varied copy, to startling facts, to a wealth of ideas and opinions in what they read. If we want them to read Challenge, rather than the bourgeois press and magazines, we’ve got to be able to compete on this level. And that means a professional staff because our local club members around the country–and our present untrained staff–are not equipped to do the job.
Now let’s boil this all down into concrete proposals:
1) Recruit a proper staff. Scour the party membership and base around the country for people with some professional experience and talent for journalism. In this field, as in mass leadership, experience and talent aren’t artificially created through ideology. Bring them to New York and constitute them as a staff on separate physical premises from the national political leadership. Cut other party expenses to the bone to pay for this. Building a mass circulation press is the most important thing, par none, on which we must spend money.
2) Return to the standard journalistic style of the American press (the so-called objective style). The bourgeoisie doesn’t use this style for arbitrary reasons: they use it because it convinces people. Preaching and Bible-thumping doesn’t convince people. This is not to say we should never get angry or passionate– of course we should, at real crisis points in the class struggle and in the wake of a special atrocity. But if we use this style all the time, it’s like the boy crying wolf.
3) Cut out most of the local struggle articles which currently clutter the pages of Challenge–most of this stuff doesn’t belong in a nationwide newspaper. The articles thus cut should be issued as local leaflets (with a Challenge masthead). That way, they would reach a hundred times as many of the workers or students directly concerned. Also, they could go into more detail (most of the local struggle articles in Challenge are neither fish nor fowl–too detailed for the national readership, and not detailed enough for the local readership).
The national leadership of the party should select those national or local struggles (three or four–no more) which are most typical, exciting, illuminating, etc. The Challenge staff should then play these struggles up big-give them professional coverage and plenty of space and a superb layout. That way, we would three or four really excellent and enthralling struggle articles per issue, instead of a dozen boring, mediocre articles. This emphasis on quality rather than quantity would build the reader’s interest in struggle, not lessen it.
4) Cut out most of the articles regarding PL or WAM picket lines, etc. There are usually far more important things going on in the mainstream mass movements.
5) Use the “liberated” space in Challenge for feature articles, exposes, human interest stories, on-the-spot coverage of key national events, interviews (with both big-name people and ordinary workers), non-sectarian cultural reviews, etc. To facilitate this, one of the Challenge staff members should function as a full-time East Coast roving reporter.
6) Anthologize from other radical publications. The undergroundpress is still a mass movement and has recently gotten into issue-oriented politics in a big way. Prison and army underground papers often contain fantastic articles. Even our rivals on the left sometimes publish articles worth reprinting (the Labor Committee’s New Solidarity, for instance). The Challenge staff should carefully read all these publication and select the best stuff, condense it, and put it into Challenge (giving full credit, of course). That way, we will be drawing not just on our own membership’s talents and sources, but on those of the entire radical movement in America. We don’t have to agree with everything these other groups say in order to recognize their ability to produce good articles? anything we disagree with (in a particular article) we can either leave out or else correct by an editor’s note.
7) Constantly scour the world bourgeois press, Government-publications, the Congressional Record–and select out and put into our own words a never-ending stream of hard-hitting factual material. This would be a truly unique service for working people– perhaps more than anything else, it would solve the problem of readership turnover.
8) Conduct periodic Challenge “marketing surveys” (via the local clubs)–learn from the masses.
If we are going to have a strategy of a new type (R.R.III) then we also need a party of a new type. The Third International’s conception of democratic centralism helped, everywhere, to produce revisionist parties; the structure and rules of these parties worked, in every case, to the advantage of revisionist cliques. The proof is in the pudding: the leftwingers in the old parties found in impossible to turn “democratic centralism” to their advantage in even a single case. Every time, they went down in defeat. Every time, the party rule were used to “police” them; i.e., to intimidate and “contain” them and expel their main spokesmen. In other words, the democratic centralism of the Third International was really bureaucratic centralism.
The persistence of such an obviously bad type of party structure was partly due to the infallibility doctrine (Lenin, Stalin and Mao–and Trotsky–all endorsed it). It was also due to the fact that this structure embodied two features that were necessary for making revolution, and that were not provided by any alternative (bourgeois) mode of party organization.
I agree with the bureaucratic centralists that the minority should be bound by the decisions of the majority (and of the party’s leading bodies which represent the majority) but only under certain conditions. i.e., only if ongoing opportunities are provided for the democratic re-evaluation of decisions–and only if the leading bodies are really elected by the majority at frequent intervals.
I agree with the bureaucratic centralists on the necessity for prohibiting factions. This prohibition, however, is only prevented from working against inner-party democracy if alternative modes for expression of minority opinion are maintained. Otherwise, the party becomes a monolith in which the national leadership is itself a faction, the only faction. Time and again, we have seen such leaderships conspire against the membership, especially the leftwing in the membership, in order to enforce revisionist policies.
The Trotskyite answer to this problem was to return to a bourgeois form of party organization (i.e., to allow factions). The real answer, however, is to go forward to something new. And the key to that party of a new type is contained in our base-building line and in Road to Revolution III. All we have to do, really, is apply in our own ranks what we advocate for society as a whole.
Here are the basic principles as I see them:
1) The ultimate obligation of every party member is to the working class, not to the party apparatus or an infallible leader. For this reason, the “right to rebellion” is the highest right within the party, taking precedent over party discipline. If members, are ideologically sound, they know that one does not rebel for minor reasons. If a bad decision is made, one must have patience–believing the party will correct itself (or that oneself will be proved wrong). If a party takes an out-and-out revisionist course, however, and there is no reasonable chance of opposing this course via the “rules,” then rebellion is justified. The decision to rebel is always taken in consultation with the masses and with close comrades. In the final analysis, however, it is an individual decision, resting on individual political judgment and moral conscience.
Hence: In a tactical sense, revolution depends on loyalty to the party and faith in collective decision-making. In a strategic sense, revolution depends on loyalty to the working class as a whole, and on the judgment and conscience of the individual.
2) Every party member has a dual aspect. He is a delegate of the masses to the party, and an ambassador of the party to the masses. In the making of party decisions, his role as delegate of the masses is primary. In the carrying out of party decisions, his role as ambassador to the masses is primary.
3) The party member’s role as “delegate of the masses to the party” also has a dual aspect. He is a delegate of the working class as a whole, but he is also a delegate of his own base (of the circles that he comes into contact with and serves on a daily basis). His role as delegate of the class as a whole is mediated through his role as delegate of his base; his loyalty to the class as a whole is concretized by his loyalty to his base. Loyalty to and representation of the abstract entity (the class) can never be separated from loyalty to and representation of flesh-and-blood people. Love of the “masses” can never be separated from love of one’s friends, co-workers and family. This is the most elementary dialectics; it is also the most elementary common sense. Personal emotions, loyalties, ties and obligation–not just ideology and “line”–are necessary to sustain a party over the long haul.
4) It follows from the above that no party can be really democratic unless it has a hardcore of people’s leaders within its membership and unless the majority of its members are doing some base-building, have real ties with people. Furthermore, it follows that the majority of party members must feel and understand their obligations as delegates of their bases. Otherwise, how can any individual stand up to the moral pressures for mindless conformity that inevitably arise in communist parties (as in any human organizations).
5) Within the party, every leader from top to bottom has a dual aspect: He is not just the representative of the national committee to the city committee, or of the city committee to the party club. He is also a delegate of the lower body back to the higher body. Hence he has two binding obligations: first, his obligation to carry out the decisions of higher bodies; second, his obligation to represent the democratic will of the lower body back to the higher body. For instance, a club leader tries to convince his club of a decision; they disagree. He and they carry the decision out (within reasonable limits) while he carries their opinion back to the higher body and fights for it there. I am aware that this is a new conception of how things should be done–but it seems to me that this blinding obligation of the club leader to the majority will of his club is absolutely necessary to prevent the emergence of a stratum of contemptible toadies and squealers on the lower level of leadership–whose only “obligation” to their clubs is to manipulate them into carrying out the decisions of the higher bodies (so the toady can earn more brownie points). Every communist party in history has been plagued with such a stratum– why should we tolerate it any longer?
(This binding mandate should be applied to party conventions, where every individual should vote his conscience.)
6. The majority is not always (or even usually) right; this applies not just to the American public (which voted for Nixon) but also to the majority of PL’s national committee and national steering committee. The reason for this is that reality is constantly developing, the old is giving way to the new, and yet the new–in its embryonic form–is only recognized at first by a few. (Just look at our own tiny organization–we are far from being a majority of the American people.) Perhaps this will change as communism liberates men’s minds, but I doubt it; the errors will merely become more subtle and complicated. There is a psychological inertia that prevents most people from recognizing truth in its embryonic form–and a person who happens to recognize it in one sphere of life will be blind to it in another sphere. Does this means that we should become anarchists and individualists? Of course not. Human society cannot exist without organization and discipline. We would be extremely foolish, however, if we failed to recognize the unavoidable price that society pays: the truth which is needed so desperately must fight its way through a jungle of prejudice, fear and conservatism (even in the most revolutionary of parties) to win acceptance. If we want to build a party that can win, we must not ignore this principle. We must build a party in which minority viewpoints are encouraged–and listened to seriously by the leadership–at the same time that discipline is enforced. We must build a party in which criticism and re-evaluation take place continuously on all levels. We must build a party in which no one is called a “revisionist,” “nut” or “wrecker” before their ideas have been given a fair hearing–and in which a fair hearing is easy to obtain.
7. The tactical initiative for the next step forward in a party’s development does not always come from the party center (i.e., from the national leadership); quite often, it comes from somewhere on the periphery of the party. And this may also hold true for the strategic initiative: after all, wasn’t China’s peasant-based revolutionary war begun on the periphery, by a minority faction? In my opinion, the central leadership of our party should spend less time trying to impose a monolithic tactical conception and more time evaluating and passing on local experiences. It should allow a broader role for local initiative. It should actively encourage individual party members and their bases, and individual party clubs, to think creatively for themselves, to develop their own tactics. Let a thousand experiments be conducted! You never can tell which one might be “it.”
A word of warning, however: This can’t happen if a party develops an apparatus of personally isolated functionaries, who will inevitably view rank-and-file initiatives as a threat to their self-image and ambitions.
8. The principles of the Paris Commune can and must be applied inside of communist parties, as well as in mass organizations. How, under socialism, can the mass organizations really exercise “mass democracy” (constant discussion and struggle, initiative and referendum procedures, the right of instant recall of elected officials, universal participation, etc.) if their communist party– the organization which leads them–fails to set an example in its own ranks. The form in which the principles of the Commune are applied in a party will differ, of course, from their form in the mass organizations and the workers’ government. But in both cases, the realization or betrayal of these principles will be dependent on rank-and-file enthusiasm, understanding and vigilance. Ina communist party, there must be a universal and passionate belief in the right and duty of every party member to help lead the party. Every party member must speak and write about questions of nationwide and local strategy and tactics–and encourage his comrades to do likewise. Every party member must take part in periodic collective discussion on levels higher than his own club. The party base (nonparty members) must be provided with channels by which they can directly influence party decisions.
The “party of a new type” is a party in which formal leadership, delegated to a few, is supplemented by informal leadership, the duty of all.
9. To prevent revisionism in a party, one must prevent the transformation of professional revolutionaries into professional functionaries. The key to this is not the question of salaries (all parties need fulltime paid leaders, journalists, etc.). The key is rather the relationship of the full-timers (especially, of the party leaders) to the masses. It is essential that every full-time party leader be spending a large portion of his time directly engaged in mass work (long range mass work, preferably in his community). First, because leadership by example is the highest form of leadership. Second, because only in this way can leaders maintain a sense of reality. Thirdly–and most importantly–because every party leader (like every party member) should be a direct “delegate” of the masses (see above). The idea of a special stratum in the party whose base is only the party itself–i.e., whose social ties and political responsibilities are only to their fellow national leaders and to the lower-level leaders who come to them for advice (not to a base among the masses)–this idea has always smelled rotten to me. Every leader should do consistent mass work. And when I say mass work, I mean real mass work–not front group time-serving. (Some people will say PL’s leaders are “too busy”. I say: let them drop some of their leadership tasks. What we would lose in quantity thereby, we would gain back tenfold in quality.)
* * *
P.L. today has an advanced case of the bureaucratic disease. The latter is at once the result and the cause of our sectarianism. By why path did it arise? First, the founders of PL were embued with a lot of the bureaucratic habits of the old CP (they had been trained, for decades, in those habits). They saw the necessity for a new revolutionary program, but not for a, new type of party. Second, they recruited, in the early years, people (mostly students) who were personally isolated and who were, as a result of their isolation, quasi-fanatical in their approach to people and to life in general. Try as they might, the founders could not (to this very day) recruit very many people who were not of this type. A vicious circle developed: the more isolated types the party recruited, the less attractive it appeared to bona fide people’s leaders. Nevertheless, the party grew in numbers; the need arose for a middle-level leadership–and the latter had to be drawn, in large measure, from the ranks of the semi-isolated. Many of these new young leaders had strong personal ambitions, exacerbated by their isolation, and no concept of how to rely on the rank and file. The founders were themselves weak on this point, yet even if they had tried, the membership might not have responded: the latter included too many people who were not delegates of the masses to the party, hut delegates of nobody to nobody, people who didn’t try to engage in strategic thinking, who didn’t try to stand up for their inner-party rights, who didn’t try to take initiative in the mass work. At any rate, the founders, in desperation, turned to the old CP. methods of commandism and exhortation to get things done. The newer, younger leaders went along with this commandism because it gave them a functionary structure to feel important within and a “ladder of success” to climb. The chickens came home to roost after the failure of PL’s attempt to organize and lead its own mass movement in 1970-71. Rank-and-file understanding of Marxism declined; Challenge sales dropped off; Challenge articles developed a hysterical tone; the functionary structure loomed larger and larger in the party. None of this was the result of a conspiracy, or of anyone’s evil intentions, Like Topsy, it “just grew.”
The existence of a functionary mentality, as a result of the above evolution, is one of the greatest dangers facing our party. We have a stratum of people who rely on the party apparatus for everything in their lives–not only for their salaries, but for their social contacts and friendships, their ego gratifications, and the answer to all their questions about life. If the party apparatus is all-important (rather than the party program and the masses), then it follows like night from day, that one’s self respect comes from one’s position in the apparatus. Climbing the ladder (even though it doesn’t mean a house in Scarsdale) becomes a life and death matter. And security (not being kicked off the ladder, not losing one’s current status) becomes life itself. The moral pressures on a person caught in this plight are usually enormous, and not having anything to sustain him outside the apparatus, he usually succumbs. Thus we see our younger generation of leaders (in New York, at any rate) scrambling around to see that quotas are met–so that their positions will be enhanced. We see a cheerleader mentality, disgusting in its mindlessness. We see the formation of little cliques, gossip behind the back of anyone who doesn’t “go along,” whispering campaigns, sorority-style blackballing and ostracism. We see the doctoring of reports to Milt (to make oneself and one’s clique look good). We see a fear of criticism or of the slightest display of initiative or creative thought from below.
I am focusing on this functionary mentality because destroying it is absolutely crucial to destroying sectarianism. The functionary types, you see, have a vested interest in maintaining the party’s current concentration on front-groups and 30-for-40 gimmickry. It is precisely all this useless paraphernalia which justifies their parasitical role in the party, and conceals their isolation from the masses: If we want to thrust aside front groupism and all the other forms of sectarianism that prevent our party members from linking up with the masses, then we’ll have to engage in serious inner-party criticism of careerism and functionaryism.
Let me conclude, once again, with concrete suggestions– suggestions for a major overhaul in our inner-party life.
1) We need a party convention every two years.
2) We need democratic election of convention delegates by the party rank and file.
3) We need an end to the state of affairs by which the national committee can drop or add members at will, year after year, with no rank-and-file consultation. Unless the party should go underground, we should have a policy of democratic election in these matters; every NC member should be held personally accountable to the party membership in his city or region.
4) Everyone in the party leadership–including Milt, Wally, and Bob Leonhardt–should be spending a major portion of their time leading by example through consistent, long range mass work in some mainstream-type situation. Furthermore, every party leader should belong to a rank and file club.
5) We should have sectionwide meetings, throughout the party, once a month. Every party member (and selected nonparty friends) should gather to discuss the same problems that the national committee discusses. In other words, these should not be pep talks or exhortations, but serious discussions of the deepest problems facing the party–and of how to solve them. Evaluation of the performance of individual party leaders should be a matter open for discussion at all times. If a section meeting arrives at a “decision” about something, through majority vote, then the national leadership should be formally obligated to consider this “decision” at its next meeting, and take its own vote on the matter. Furthermore, the section meetings should be encouraged to elect a spokesman to go to the national committee (if the matter is a serious one) and argue the section’s case there. These provisos are not meant to promote ultra-democracy, but to guarantee that rank and file opinion is taken seriously.
6) For rank and file party members–and section meetings–to make serious contributions to party policy, they must have access to more facts about the party’s nationwide life; i.e., they must have the “eagle’s eye view” that traditionally, in most parties, has been the exclusive property of a few leaders. For this purpose, the party leadership should supply the entire membership with monthly reports on the party’s work that would go into greater detail than any type of report we’ve received in the past. These reports should go into the “embarrassing” problems in every area of work and the private and ambiguous truths that party leaders usually discuss only among themselves (while feeding the rank and file a cheerleader’s broth).
This is not to deny the need for secrecy in some areas of party life. But I ask you: should we be like the old CP., in which the average party member didn’t know a fraction as much about the inner workings of the party as the FBI did?
7) We need a criticism campaign in the party to dig out the functionary mentality on all levels. The best way would be for the national leadership to go to sectionwide meetings of the type described above and simply say, “Look, maybe we’ve made some mistakes–what should we do about it?” And then not try to turn the meeting into another pep talk, but listen to what the rank and file has to say. (Such a criticism campaign against functionaryism should be linked to a criticism of sectarianism in the mass work–the two problems are inseparable.)
8) We need an end to the party leadership’s super-sensitivity about rank-and-file criticism. In my opinion, the rank and file is under no particular obligation to be overly tactful. If bourgeois politicians and Presidents can take sharp criticism from within their own class without getting upset, then surely proletarian leaders can do likewise.
Here we get into the personal weaknesses of Milt and Wally, and I’m going to speak bluntly. First, they love to dish it out but act like hurt little boys when they have to take it (even in a tactful way) themselves. Second, Milt enjoys and subconsciously encourages flattery and a “courtier” spirit. These are serious personal weaknesses, and I don’t think we can have vigorous inner-party democracy until our top leaders overcome them.
There is a single glaring problem that I think our conference should clear up. This is the problem of totalitarianism. Heretofore, communists were always reluctant to take a stand against the lack of personal freedom in Soviet bloc countries–especially under Stalin– because we felt this would be anti-communist. But doesn’t Road to Revolution III essentially free us from this dilemna? The totalitarian actions by Stalin and his successors were not and are not actions by communists but by a “Red” bourgeoisie. Hence to be anti-totalitarian, it seems to me, is no longer to be anti-communist.
The dictatorship of the proletariat means two essential things: guns are held only by the masses; and the masses repress anyone who takes up guns illegitimately to overthrow socialism. Also, an apparatus is maintained for the restraint of social crime (a volunteer militia, revolutionary juries, humanely-run prisons). In peacetime, what other necessary dictatorial functions are there? (Obviously things are different in the midst of a civil war or an invasion by a foreign imperialist power.).
PL has already said: no standing army or cops (secret police) under socialism. PL has already said: let the masses rule directly, through “Soviets,” not through a bureaucratic caste. I think we should go a step further, and say: Complete freedom of speech, press and assembly under socialism. And when I say complete. I mean for everyone, including the enemies of socialism. It has to be for everyone, because when you start drawing lines there’s no stopping the process. Counterrevolutionary opinions, under socialism, will not just be held by ex-bosses, but by many workers. Everything will constantly be in flux; rightists will be posing as leftists (and denouncing leftists as rightists); at any given moment it will be extremely difficult to tell who is a bona fide revolutionary and who is a rightist revisionist. If you give the state apparatus the right to tell people what they can or can’t think, say or read, then you immediately get into the age-old dilemna of “who will guard the guardians.” And what will prevent revisionists (who will inevitably, at some point or other, gain a measure of control over the state apparatus in this or that city or state–or even in Washington D.C.) from using the power of repression against the true left-wingers? Hasn’t the latter happened in every so-called socialist country so far? And didn’t the repression of opposition ideas by the bolsheviks immediately pass over into repression of the trade unions, of the Soviets, of the party rank-and-file, of the very proletariat that was supposed to hold power?
The totalitarianism of Soviet Russia was not an outgrowth of Marx’s ideas, but of the historical culture of Russia, a country that never had known anything but autocracy. The bolsheviks merely fell back, after a few years, into the same pattern of censorship and secret-police rule that the Czars had used.
Why do we, like all the communist parties of the past fifty years, have to remain tied to a lot of autocratic Russian nonsense–nonsense that is completely foreign to the sentiments and common sense of the American masses. The workers in this country know that in Russia you can’t speak your mind, go on strike, etc., and they think that is communism, and they will never, in this day-and age, follow a communist party unless that party makes it crystal clear, from the very beginning, that it doesn’t believe in such methods.
We should publicly and sharply draw a line between ourselves and the entire heritage of “left” totalitarianism. We owe to the American working class a solemn, public, constantly-repeated pledge that we are NOT aiming to create such a society. I think our basic statement of purpose in Challenge should include a statement on the sanctity of freedom of speech and other civil liberties. It’s not incompatible with the dictatorship of the proletariat and it’s not incompatible with winning a civil war (nobody expects full civil liberties in wartime). And in the years ahead, as we reach out to the masses, we should constantly hammer this point home, and mean it (sincerely, not like the Browderites): our party is the champion of democratic rights. Why, just because of the stupidity of Stalin and Co., should we let the bourgeoisie pose as the champions of freedom (which they actually hate) while we, who by the logic of R. R. III should be its real champions, are tarred as its enemies? Don’t you think its time we turned the tables? And wouldn’t this enormously increase our ability to win the minds and hearts of the American people?