First Published: In Struggle! No. 288, June 22, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and 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.
The approach adopted in our programme and in the major IN STRUGGLE! texts overrates the role that intellectuals ought to play in the revolutionary struggle. Workers (Transl. note. – Les ouvriers (mas. in French) (our ideal worker is always male) are not seen as “advanced” when they try to understand things from their practice, what has happened elsewhere or in history. Oh, no. They are “advanced” when they recognize the value of “Marxism-Leninism” (Against Economism, Fr. version, p. 7).
It is true that intellectualism is prevalent in most left groups. But in IN STRUGGLE! there is somewhat of a tradition of intellectualism. That was evident during the last Common Front, during the El Salvador speaking tour, with the resurgence of the women’s question and all through the period leading up to the congress.
But IN STRUGGLE!’s history is not all negative. There are plenty of examples of fights against intellectualism, of rank and file revolts and of good moves to link the development of revolutionary theory to a social practice. That is what we are working from in proposing this resolution. We have divided the resolution into three.
We hope that, by putting forward proposals for future perspectives, we will come to a better understanding of the role that intellectuals ought to have in the revolutionary struggle, no matter what our future may be.
In April 1981, as the feeling of demobilization among the rank and file was intensifying, the CC voted to reaffirm the correctness of the programme. It decided that we must “progressively increase the circulation of the newspaper”. After the April CC, the SG was asked to draw up a resolution for the congress on our tasks. In the meantime, the bad reception that the April resolution on tasks was getting led the majority of the PB to break from the SG’s approach. Two other members of the PB were mandated to draft up a resolution on our tasks. This draft resolution (the Jean and Howard text) had no better a reception than the April resolution.
The national conference in January provoked comments we have heard many times before and since: “Enough small talk. Let’s get down to the root problems”. The process of preparing for the congress was apparently not viewed as a root problem. Although there is now a majority line and a minority line in the PB, they share one line on the pre-congress preparation period, i.e. should consist of: debate of the key problems in relation to the political positions put forward by the leadership and, parallel to that, the publishing of countless texts which in practice prevents the sum-ups, criticisms and proposals written by the rank and file from being noticed and dealt with.
The PB was the practical and political leadership of IN STRUGGLE! With few exceptions, it was made up of intellectuals cut off from any regular mass practice.
Intellectuaiism was the straitjacket imposed on “being political” that kept workers from holding positions with political power. The same was true for women. There was encouragement and appreciation of those who looked at things “from a general and overall perspective”, who analyzed and synthesized information. The reverse treatment was meted out to those who looked at things from a “narrow and specific perspective”. From the perspective of your shop, of your set of friends, of your emotions – all that was economism, localism, stage-ism or subjectivism.
Every evaluation, criticism or election was an occasion to drive home an elitist conception of power: the ability to analyze things, a view of the whole, was always the decisive factor.
Individually, comrades developed a stance of submissiveness in relation to our “good leadership”. People who were out-talked by a better talker felt it as a personal weakness; this was so to the extent that the struggle was not waged against intellectuaiism. If you did not speak in a meeting you came out of the meeting with a lower opinion of yourself. Sometimes this even led to bouts of depression.
Collectively, the lower levels got used to being silenced. To exaggerate slightly (but not much): the full-timers in the cells were silenced by the secretary; the secretary in general didn’t have the time to be active among the masses; the secretary was put in his or her place by the part-timers (whose main task was in the apparatus) who had a view of the whole etc. etc.
Intellectuaiism was a justification for everything. Leaders didn’t attend demonstrations or solidarity evenings; they had internal meetings scheduled for the same time. This was justified by the urgency of the political situation. Nowadays we realize how ridiculous ail those urgent situations were.
Our work among the masses was viewed in an intellectualist way. Communicating ideas was more important than winning victories. Working to extend user control in day-care centres was said to create illusions.
We had a one-way street approach to political education. Always a master-student relationship. The idea of developing theory in the course of practical action, of being educated in the heat of battle, was given short shrift.
The work done by comrades in the base units was always viewed with disdain as something lowly. Their opinions counted for very little. One gets the impression that changes were faster in coming after a meeting with a foreign organization or a U.S. newspaper or after reading a book by some European.
This had important results. Those results have been more evident in the last year. The domination of the intellectuals came out stronger than ever. People becoming demobilized, taking “breaks” and quitting has not noticeably altered the way we are preparing for the congress.
Women and workers aren’t the only ones to suffer because of intellectualism. Cultural workers were also sidetracked in their work when we made cultural work an auxiliary tool in propaganda work.
And even the intellectuals suffered. Intellectualism was an obstacle to a dynamic elaboration of revolutionary theory:
– because it led to focussing almost all our attention on the economic side of things (“in the final analysis, economics is decisive”) and this stopped us from seeing life in all its complexity: psychology, pedagogy, science, culture.
– it made us pay too much attention to generalizations; hence instead of making an analysis of specific cases and doing field work we clipped newspapers, magazines and government reports.
– it led us to organize our whole mode of operating around reports and a sifting of several reports; this often led to reducing the dynamics of a struggle to a few ideas. All too often political editing in the newspaper came to mean: cut out the examples to keep in all the conclusions.
But there are also positive examples which provide some leads on what the role of intellectuals should be:
– the questions raised by the women led to a number of theoretical advances.
– our intervention at Commonwealth Plywood prompted us to do a sum-up (IB 26?) which led to theoretical understandings based on a definite practice.
– since IN STRUGGLE! has fallen apart we have come to realize that intellectuals whose job is as an intellectual are not the only persons who can make theoretical contributions.
– we are not saying that research must be restricted to investigation tied closely to a specific practice or experience. IB 40 dealt with questions that had come up in various aspects of our practice. What ruined the process begun there was the attempt to answer those questions with bookish analyses which were far removed from our practice.
1.1. The approach used to preparing for the congress has been an intellectualist one!
– debates have polarized around general all-encompassing positions. Lessons from practice have not been seen as important.
– the leading role has been given to those who were not close to the practice.
– there has been greater concern with making progress in understanding the “key questions facing the left” than with ensuring that all comrades make progress in their understanding of things.
– there has been too much reliance on written texts.
2.1 The excessive value placed on the ability to assimilate theory and on leadership by those with a “view of the whole” resulted in a hierarchy of power based on intellectual abilities. Consciously or unconsciously, this creation of a hierarchy was done on an elitist basis.
3.1 Intellectuals have enjoyed significant privileges in IN STRUGGLE. Those privileges were in part material ones: access to information, mechanisms to get their views communicated (translation, printing, secretarial work, etc.) The privileges also involved political power: when a change was made what was important was for the intellectual leaders to convince one another; it was not considered important to persuade those who had to implement the change. For the rank and file this has always meant the same thing: frustration, being put down, and feeling inferior.
4.1 Intellectualism, the basis of a hierarchical system, snuffed out the creativity of the members in various aspects of life. Still, as many examples show, the intellectuals made positive contributions to the elaboration of revolutionary theory every time that those contributions were developed in close connection with our practice.
1.2 Our Organization will only break with the past to the extend that those who work to make social change have real chances to develop their ideas about how to make revolutionary change.
2.2 IN STRUGGLE! will only really succeed in making changes when it acknowledged what it has called for other social strata: letting the rank and file have the power and take part fully in decisio nmaking. In other words, those who lead should not be leaders just because of their intellectual “resources”.
3.2 To change IN STRUGGLE! we have to: a) fully recognize without beating around the bush that intellectuals have enjoyed real privileges. b) establish mechanisms so that people who intervene in mass struggles can express themselves freely in a situation where full leeway is given to their own dynamism. c) discriminate positively in favour of those who are working on the front lines for social change.
4.2 Participation by intellectuals in any future IN STRUGGLE! will remain essential. The world cannot be rediscovered every generation. But care must be taken that the “discovery” of reality by intellectuals does not become a mechanism for taking over political power. On the contrary, intellectuals must constantly work to involve all those who do the practical work to change society in their theoretical research. And we should not wait forever until all the preconditions have been attained to start reducing the gap between the intellectuals and the practical doers.