First Published: In Struggle! No. 267, October 13, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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IN STRUGGLE! is beset with problems – serious problems.
The last women’s conference in Quebec identified several: the sexist division of labour; the gulf between manual and intellectual work; and the division between “thinkers” and “doers”. What this means is that women will no longer accept a situation where most of the women in the organization are stuck in infrastructure (technical and manual) tasks with little power to decide anything. They will no longer go along with a minority of men occupying the most important leadership positions, cut off from the masses. These comrades will no longer put up with having to feel guilty when they spend time with their children or when they have emotional reactions to difficult situations.
Women are not the only ones to make these serious criticisms. Proletarians have also criticized intellectualism and elitism over the past few months. Several are wondering if it is possible for workers to have leadership positions in this type of organization. And if it is, how come intellectuals are holding down just about all of these positions?
IN STRUGGLE! has been closing its eyes to the real results of its mass work. Sure, there has been real progress, like the success of our last financial campaign and the fact that our viewpoints are regarded with more interest and attention by many progressives across Canada. But these must not be used to avoid facing the fact that eight years after its creation, IN STRUGGLE! is still far from attaining its objective of uniting the most militant elements of the people’s forces. At the same time, our analysis and our viewpoints remain too often at the level of cliches and stereotypes and lag behind those developed by other organizations or revolutionary activists here or abroad.
We think this problem explains the feeling of being isolated, increasingly marginal to events and burnt out that several IN STRUGGLE! supporters and members are experiencing right now to the point that some have decided to resign. This problem must also, of course, be linked to the aimless free fall the “Marxist-Leninist movement” is going through around the world.
The creation of IN STRUGGLE! in 1972 was a significant break with past practice for the revolutionary movement in Canada because it clearly put forward the need for socialism and the type of organization required to achieve it. IS! proposed to make Marxist theory accessible to all workers and called on them to engage in revolutionary political action. These positive steps forward remain as some of the most solid strengths in IN STRUGGLE!’ s work over the years.
However, IN STRUGGLE!’s plan remained strongly imprinted with the stamp of many of the concepts upheld by the radical and intellectual youth of the 60s. One key example: the whole idea of proclaiming oneself as the revolutionary vanguard. During the 60s, guerilla and terrorist resistance movements believed that a united and well-organized, vanguard could, through spectacular military exploits, arouse the consciousness of the masses to the need to fight and spark them into action. IN STRUGGLE! was to salvage the idea of an organized vanguard that injects a consciousness into the masses from without. But this time, instead of bombs and rifles, it would be done through ideological struggle, and the spreading of revolutionary ideas.
Thus, at its Third Congress IN STRUGGLE! was to proclaim itself to be this vanguard, “the Marxist-Leninist organization of struggle for the party” even if we never went to the ridiculous extremes of the WCP, CPL, CPC(M-L) and other tiny groups that proclaimed themselves “the party of the working class”. All that remained was for workers to join this organization whose programme, line and organizational structures were already defined without their having had any say in the matter! In fact, this was the basic position of the Congress. Moreover, IN STRUGGLE! wants to build a party defined as “the headquarters of the revolution” in Canada (article 7 of the Programme), The constitution adopted at the same congress, in keeping with this conception of a headquarters, concentrated power at the level of the leading body of the Organization. It defined very selective criteria for admitting people to membership in the Organization. Unity of action and military-like discipline were a must.
The core of the organization’s work remains concentrated on ideological struggle and the spreading of Marxism-Leninism whose powers are apparently almost magical. In fact, all of IN STRUGGLE!’s theses on ideolopeal struggle we based on the idaa that it is primarily through spreading revolutionary ideas (defined as the principles of Marxism-Leninism) that workers will become revolutionaries, and this regardless of objective conditions, regardless of the fact that we are in a revolutionary period or not. This thesis denies the fact that the raising of the masses’ awareness comes first and foremost from their own experience in struggles. And, it cuts our militants off from those struggles.
The difficulties we’re experiencing today can’t be explained only by objective conditions. They confirm the failure of the self-proclamation of ourselves as the vanguard. Reality was to rear its ugly head: recruitment is stagnant; workers and women who rallied to us are uncomfortable, not to say oppressed in this organization. The programme adopted at the Third Congress and the Marxist-Leninist principles are far from answering the questions posed by the revolutionary movement.
IN STRUGGLE! as it exists now does not represent a viable alternative for a large number of activists who aspire to socialism and the overthrow of capitalism.
Therefore, we are convinced that radical changes must be made at the next congress in the way IN STRUGGLE! is organized and the tasks it sets.
It will not be posible (indeed it would be wrong to try) to spell out exactly what the new organization should be between now and the congress. We think that what we should be aiming at is making the changes which would permit us to redefine over time a new revolutionary organization that is more in line with the real situation in Canada and in this period. And to do this we must stop considering ourselves the vanguard in all things. We must be more modest and patient and stop looking for the final solution to all problems.
What changes need to be made right away? First, a significant transfer of the central leadership’s power must be made to the base units. This may mean, for instance, a considerable reduction in the number of full-time staff; the cutting down of the numbers of several committees in the regional and national apparatus; giving real power to the base units to decide themselves the content and place of their political work within the general policy framework set by the Organization; making a yearly congress mandatory; creating representative bodies to decide on specific questions affecting women, etc. We must also considerably lower the membership criteria.
All these changes imply suspending moat of the articles in our present constitution. This is necessary to reinforce democracy and encourage the participation of all in the process we are involved in now.
With regard to political tasks, we must encourage increasing involvement of our members in immediate struggles. We mean real involvement, not just to distribute the newspaper, or to promote the communist viewpoint, but to defend the workers’ immediate interests, and within this framework make the Organization’s viewpoint known. Involvement to win victories and avoid defeats which might be worse than those we have experienced over the pest few years.
This involvement is necessary for the peoples immediate interests, but it is also necessary to develop revolutionary theory. It is necessary to get our theory away from stereotypes and cliches, and to link it to immediate political questions. For we still consider that the role of a revolutionary organization in a non-revolutionary situation requires that a great deal of attention be paid to theoretical tasks. What is more, these tasks must be organized in such a way that everybody can contribute to their development.
At the same time, the opportunities for the expression of divergent views must be broadened. We must not be afraid of public polemics between members and even leaders of the Organization. The preparation for the congress is a first try in this direction. If we don’t permit the expression of different viewpoints on questions like the nature of socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the role of the Party, we’ll make it impossible to make any real progress in improving our understandings on these matters. Our waffling around in the sum-ups we have done of this history of the struggle for socialism is striking proof of this.
IN STRUGGLE!’s problems are, however. not unique to it and cannot be resolved solely within its ranks. The problems affect all organizations working on political issues.
This is why we propose that IN STRUGGLE!’s next congress give its newly, elected leadership the mandate to begin a process of uniting with other left organizations in Canada and in Quebec. This process should embrace all comrades in the union, feminist, anti-nuclear and other movements, or those in no organization at all who want socialism.
The process of unity should include private and public talks at the same time and be organized as much as possible in a collective way for all individuals and groups interested.
To accomplish this work our political programme is not an adequate instrument; first, its contents must be reassessed in light of the research and debate going on; secondly, it is much too restrictive because the basis of unity demanded is much too high. That is why the next congress should adopt a minimal political platform. Just to illustrate what we mean, this platform could include the following points:
1) The need for socialist revolution and popular power led by the workers.
2) The need for long-term struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation and the commitment to begin now to change relationships between men and women, between manual and intellectual workers, between leaders and followers within the revolutionary organization itself.
3) The right to self-determination for Quebec, for Native people and other oppressed nations in Canada.
4) A consistent struggle against imperialism, including the Canadian bourgeoisie.
Those are what conclusions we have come to thus far. Future discussions will permit us to better understand our past work and the lessons we must learn from it for the future.
Newspaper Editor (Political Bureau), Correspondents Editor (Central Committee)