First Published: In Struggle! No. 269, October 28, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Let’s face facts. The questions that have been raised in the debate put into question the very existence of our organization, not just this or that goal we have set, our method of leadership or our work in the masses.
Thus what we have to do is more than just figure out how to be more democratic, what the relative importance should be of participation in immediate struggles and agitation in relation to them, or what kind of structures women need within the organization. We have something bigger to decide: if we are going to continue to work together, on what political basis are we going to do so and to achieve what goals?
IN STRUGGLE’ from its inception has recruited and built the unity of its membership around an ideology and certain goals and principles. These were formulated in their most complete form in 1979 in the “Programme for the proletarian revolution in Canada”. Plus, and flowing from the programme, our constitution. We might have been wrong to think so but the very basis for our working together and the work we did was the conviction that that programme was right.
But in the past two years events have forced us to question more and more profoundly things that we had thought were unshakeable convictions. To the point, and this is where we are at now, where the raison d’Ítre of our organization, what has held it together. simply doesn’t exist any more. That is why there are strong divisive trends these days and a sharpening of contradictions between the leadership and the rank and file, intellectuals and workers, women and men, etc.
One need only reread the programme to see that the questions comrades have raised which we have so far not answered are so fundamental that they make the programme a dead letter.
Take article 2 for example. “The era of imperialism is also the era of proletarian revolution”, where we assert that “capitalism has created the very conditions for its own destruction” and “the spread of capitalist production has resulted in the growth of the size, cohesion, and revolt of the proletariat, the only thoroughly revolutionary class.“ We say that “it was the glorious October Revolution in Russia in 1917, however, that marked the onset of the era of proletarian revolution, the era of the struggle for socialism and communism led by the working class and its vanguard party.” Further, we say that “the successes and setbacks of all revolutionary struggles since then confirm that henceforth only proletarian leadership can lead the revolution on the path towards socialism.” And we add that “without a firm application of Marxism-Leninism, without the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle for socialism will inevitably meet with such defeats.” And so on.
As for the constitution, article 1 alone could be enough to provoke debate taking up the time of several internal and public meetings.
Some comrades still agree with the Programme and constitution as they are. But for most people, I think the excerpts which I quoted above lead them in varying degrees to pose a lot of very basic questions. Even more, the answers people are coming up with, or their tentative hypotheses, ate very diverse and contradictory. Questions and conlficting answers have never been a basis for people uniting, let alone for action.
There aren’t a million and one ways this whole thing can turn out. Already the debates that have been held, the letters to the newspaper, etc., are beginning to make it possible to see the different ways forward that people envisage. I would like to look first at two lines of thought that in my view share the same drawback: they miss the point at issue in the crisis.
1. Develop our Marxist theory
This approach recognizes the depth of the questions being raised about the programme. The comrades upholding this view think that the main way we are going to answer those questions is by developing our theory further. Hence, we must set up structures (for study especially) that enable as to come up with the answers ourselves (in IN STRUGGLE!): those answers will probably enable us to rebuild our unity. These comrades are not saying we should become a study group: we should keep on doing mass work. This is the solution we have been trying to implement since the crisis began.
Developing Marxist theory (although it is indispensable) is in no way an adequate response to the crisis. Our programme (the basis of our unity and guide to our work in the past) is out of date. The “develop theory” approach does not put forward anything in its place that could serve right away as a guide to our daily political mass work. What it suggests is some future yet-to-be-defined basis of unity and guide to action (when will it be produced?) which is somehow supposed to help as cope with immediate issues. Those who are doing mass work need to know right now who we are, what positions we still uphold and which ones we no longer support. While we are waiting for all these answers, these comrades still have to defend the programme. It would be complete political paralysis.
This approach, because it doesn’t suggest any short-term solution for what should guide our practice, and because it arbitrarily separates theory and practice, objectively intensifies the contradiction between intellectuals and workers.
2. Do more mass work
A second approach has developed in response to the intellectualism of the first. This view says that the solution lies in linking up with the masses, involvement in struggles, opening ourselves up more to other oppositional trends, etc.
Again, I agree with the importance of working among the masses, but that is not the main issue at present. The central issue is: on what political basis are we going to do that mass work?
In this sense, even with our present programme, the comrades who ask what distinguishes us from left-wing social democrats or militant trade unionists are raising a very legitimate question. Because, if in fact nothing does distinguish us fundamentally from them then our very existence as a distinct organization is called into question.
In the final analysis, we have but two alternatives:
1. Reaffirm the programme and constitution
This would not mean keeping things as they are but going back to the “status quo ante” (because things are different now from what they were a short while back). This step back could only result in the formation of a clique which dogmatically upholds its principles in the manner of CPC (M-L) or BU.
2. Redefine what unites as right now
Our first task is to redo the programme to the extent that it has cease to function as our political basis of unity. The new programme must necessarily be broader (more of a minimal programme). Our constitution has to be redone too.
This approach is the only one that we could possible deal with the present situation in a progressive way. It has the merit of making explicit what unites us right now in practice rather than what used to unite us or what might at some future time unite us.
Redefining the basis of our organization would make it possible to draw up plans for short-term action. It would enable as to embrace organizationally all those groups and movements which are working for socialism and are posing questions about the way to achieve it. Finally, we can ask ourselves all the questions we want about the kind of organization we need in the long term, but perhaps by defining precisely what it is that we are in actual fact right now we will have what we need.
The person in charge on a national level for culture and youth