First Published: The Call, Vol. 4, No. 3, December 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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How should revolutionaries respond to the 1976 presidential elections? This topic was the subject of a November 14 forum in New York City, sponsored by the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP). Participants included Katibu of CAP, James Haughton of Harlem Fightback, Martha Schwartz of the National Interim Committee for a Mass Party of the People (NIC), and Sherman Miller, member of the Central Committee of the October League.
Debate revolved around the proposal by the Congress of Afrikan People for a campaign for the presidency in 1976. According to CAP’s “Strategy ’76” proposal, work around a joint, left, electoral campaign would provide an opportunity for broad anti-capitalist propaganda and organizing to be carried on by the co-sponsoring anti-imperialist organizations. While no decision had thus far been made about specifics such as who the candidates would be, the debate broke down into two general lines: one put forward by CAP, NIC and Fightback, who are in favor of mobilizing a left electoral campaign for 1976, and the other put forward by the October League, which opposes such a plan.
Katibu of CAP quoted at length from the works of Lenin and Dimitrov on the necessity for communists not to ignore electoral politics. Pointing to Mao Tse-tung’s thesis that “there are three magic weapons in a revolution: a party, an army, and a united front,” Katibu argued that a new party would emerge after the building of such a united front based on the election campaign.
The other two pro-electoral strategy speakers had a slightly different perspective. Schwartz of the NIC argued that “apathy is sweeping the land,” and that electoral politics is the only way at this time to get people interested. The National Interim Committee led by attorney Arthur Kinoy, is opposed to the building of a revolutionary communist party in the U.S. NIC’s isolation from and contempt for the masses of struggling people was reflected in Schwartz’s query: “Where are these masses of people fighting back that Sherman Miller is talking about? I don’t see them. If you can see them, would you please show them to me?”
The basis for NIC’s support for the ’76 election strategy is twofold. On the one hand it is an attempt to divert the struggle for the formation of a revolutionary communist party. On the other, it is a reflection of their reformist program, which can be seen in their efforts to create a ”people’s congress and a people’s president.” As Schwartz summed it up, NIC views the elections as a strategy to “bring the power back to the people’s hands.”
Speaking for Harlem Fightback, an organization against unemployment, Jim Haughton commented, ”what we need to do is get down and fight for the bread and butter issues.”
“We are for bread and butter too,” replied Sherman Miller of the October League, ”but we are for permanent bread and butter, for revolution. No half-baked program of reforms that doesn’t show people the whole picture will do. To really fight back, people need organization, organized leadership with a revolutionary line: the people need a new communist party first and foremost.”
The OL raised the tasks of revolutionaries in 1976 as “Build the Party! Build the Fightback!” The OL representative explained that after all the time the young communist movement has spent breaking with the revisionist CPUSA, whose cornerstone is “peaceful transition to socialism via electoral change, it would be a bog step backward to turn toward the ballot box our main program. The OL’s opposition to the “Election Strategy ’76” is based on three main points: (1) the main task at this time is to build a new communist party to lead the struggle, and any other plan put forward as the main strategy objectively helps the revisionist CPUSA; (2) the electoral emphasis will detract from the work of revolutionaries in the factories, where the new revolutionary party must be based, taking them instead out to the bourgeois electoral precincts; and (3) the content of the proposed campaign is inherently reformist and would be aimed primarily at the liberals–it fails to raise the question of socialism and revolution as the real path to power for the working class, but instead suggests the possibility of making real change through the elections.
CAP speaker Katibu countered that “it would be an ’ultra-left’ error to ignore the elections in 1976. You must tell the people to do something.”
“We are telling the people to do something,” answered Miller of the OL. “We are continuing to organize the mass fight-back against the crisis, particularly against unemployment, police repression and imperialist war.”
The October League position paper pointed out, “We do not automatically enter the elections, nor automatically call for a boycott of them.” It added that we should consider the relative strength and organization of the communist forces-whether they are well armed with a party and a program speaking to the immediate and long range needs of the masses, or whether they are still scattered and unconsolidated.
The principles and demands on which CAP proposed to base the electoral campaign also have not been clear and stable. The OL pointed out that CAP’s plan for an “implicitly socialist” campaign–but not openly socialist–was too vague and shaky in principle to educate the masses of people in a revolutionary direction.
Miller said: “We have no intention of ignoring the elections. We intend to use them in our agitation, as a way to put forward our main aims. But we will not subordinate our strategic tasks to electoral work. The fact that the bourgeoisie is holding elections this year cannot be the determining factor in our strategy–or else they can lead us around by the nose, in and out of voting booths forever!”
The conference ended without the question being fully resolved. As of now, the electoral strategy has not gained the support that CAP had hoped for. The future of the electoral plan is in doubt and the questions around the plan will surely be the focus of further discussion and debate.