Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Tucson and Boston Theoretical Review Editorial Boards

A Joint Statement on the Party Building Line of the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

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First Published: Theoretical Review No. 11, July-August 1979.
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.


Since its inception two years ago, the Theoretical Review has defended a party-building position which has come to be known as the “primacy of theory” line.[1] Inasmuch as the recently formed National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs (Club Network) has set forth its party-building position, which it says is its own further development of the primacy of theory line, we recognize a responsibility to make our views known on this development and its significance for our movement.

The Club Network consists of Clubs or Club Organizing Committees in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Launched in the fall of 1977 as Guardian Clubs by the staff of the Guardian newspaper, the Clubs broke with the Guardian in January 1979 and reorganized themselves as the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs at a conference in New York in March. Irwin Silber, former executive editor of the Guardian[1a], was elected chairperson of the new organization.

The Club Network considers itself a part of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend in the Communist movement within which it sees two poles, one represented by itself and its “rectification line” on party building, the other represented by the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OC) led by the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) and its fusion line on party building. The Club Network defines its main task as engaging the Communist movement in the struggle over party-building line from the perspective of the rectification line. A critical examination of the Club Network’s position and its relation to the OC is necessary. Equally necessary is the comparison and contrast of our own primacy of theory line to the rectification line. What follows are some comments and questions for discussion on the issues we have raised. We look forward to a future exchange to begin to deepen the struggle to build a genuine Communist party in the U.S.

FEATURES OF THE CLUB NETWORK’S PARTY-BUILDING LINE

“The central task of U.S. Marxist-Leninists today is the rectification of the general line of the U.S. Communist movement and the reestablishment of its party”.[2] In these terms, the Club Network formulates its party-building line. The implications of this line become clear when its main features are spelled out.

1. We must begin rectification, says the Club Network, by going back to the Communist Party, USA, when it was a genuine Communist party and had a principally correct general line. That general line must be our starting point for rectification.

When did the Communist Party cease being a genuine revolutionary party? While the Club Network finds some errors in the Communist Party’s history prior to 1956, it makes the assertion that the proletarian line was dominant until 1956. What changed the party? The Club Network says that revisionism triumphed when, in 1956-57, “the goal of the dictatorship of the proletariat was abandoned and replaced with the notion of a peaceful and constitutional path to socialism.”[3]

While at first glance this assertion appears sound, as a criterion for scientific analysis, it leaves much to be desired. After all, a party should be judged by its practice, not just by its stated goals. If the party has long since abandoned the struggle for proletarian revolution, it should be of little consequence whether the goal of proletarian revolution remains in its resolutions. Even judging by the Club Network’s own criterion, the Communist Party went revisionist well before the mid-1950’s. In 1949, in his pamphlet, In Defense of the Communist Party and Its Indicted Leaders, William Z. Foster put forward the idea of a peaceful parliamentary path to socialism in the United States, which the party adopted as its basic line. This is how Foster would later characterize this development.

This adoption of the definite perspective of a parliamentary road to socialism in the United States, done during the most intense period of the Cold War, constituted one of the greatest steps away from sectarianism and towards a broad mass policy ever taken in the entire history of our Communist Party.[4]

Thus, even by the Network’s own criterion, the Communist Party had gone revisionist at the end of the 1940’s. In fact, one only has to begin to study the theoretical, political, and ideological practice of the Party under Browder’s leadership, and the theoretical/political basis for the Party’s line in this period, to recognize that the Party had already abandoned the practice of proletarian revolution long before the 16th Convention made such a fanfare of its class collaboration.

In September 1937, in an address at a Massachusetts Communist Party Convention, Earl Browder explained to the bourgeoisie how capitalism could be maintained and how the Communist Party would contribute to that goal. He stated:

Proletarian dictatorship can become a practical order of the day in America only if President Roosevelt’s promise of a higher standard of living under the present system is defeated or betrayed. We of the Communist Party are prepared to cooperate with everybody who will help to win that higher standard of living for the masses... [W]e communists ... tell the president that he has nothing to fear from us but, on the contrary, will receive our help...[5]

We make this point, not to split hairs, but to show that it is dangerous to create a party-building line which relies on a revolutionary past which had long since ceased to exist. The Club Network calls on us to continue the “genuine tradition” of the Communist Party, USA, claiming that that tradition was dominant before 1956. But is the political line of the CPUSA in the 30’s and 40’s really principally a correct line, one that can simply be rectified? Can it be said that a line that tailed after Roosevelt was primarily a proletarian line? Did the party advance a line of working class independence? How are we to understand the sectarianism and revisionism which led to the recriminations of 1957? Our study shows that when these questions are answered the remarks of the Club Network show a failure to understand the reality of our Communist history.[6]

Let us hasten to add that the Club Network is not alone in this error. Clay Newlin of the PWOC made the same evaluation of the revolutionary character of the Communist Party in the pre-1956-57 period in a speech in Oakland on April 4, 1979, reprinted by the Club Network.[7] The lessons of history are, indeed, important, for the past can either illuminate the present and its tasks or distort them. As we set about the task of party building today, we must keep this distinction in mind. Remember Marx’s words:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, slogans and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.[8]

The Club Network’s rectification line stresses the continuity of U.S. Communist history, and the need to rectify the genuine line which once existed. We, on the contrary, are compelled to stress the discontinuity of our history, and the need to start the production of a general political line[8a] for our movement from the present conjuncture.

By this, we mean that the present state of the U.S. social formation, its economics, its politics, its ideology and its class struggle are our starting point. Examining it by applying to it advanced Marxist-Leninist concepts and methodology and deriving a basis for intervention in the class struggle, that is, developing a political line, is for us the essence of Leninist political practice. Previous approaches, both positive and negative, can aid us in this process, but only if we approach them from a critical and theoretically sound foundation. In fact, by carefully studying our history, we will be able to come to grips with certain misunderstandings of Marxism-Leninism that persist today, searching out their roots and counterposing incorrect practice to certain correct practices, many of which were not theoretically articulated or were not reflected in the general line, but in fact ran ahead of theory, and in spite of much of the theory. Our starting point must always be the present state of the class struggle because it is this reality which we want to transform, directed by the general political line we struggle to develop.

2. The Club Network states that the rectification of the general line of the Communist movement will proceed based on the “universal principles of Marxism-Leninism” reconfirmed, correctly applied and Independently elaborated in accordance with the particular conditions in the U.S.

This discussion of the “universal principles” of Marxism-Leninism takes up only one short paragraph in the Club Network’s party-building pamphlet, and while the same document Insists that in this period “theoretical tasks are principle over practical tasks,” so brief a discussion of the difficulties involved in theoretical practice is a bad sign.

Expressions favoring the concrete application of Marxism to U.S. conditions abound in the writings of the anti-revisionist movement, even of the smallest dogmatist sects. Expressions favoring the independent elaboration of Marxist-Leninist principles abound in the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist movement and in the writings of PWOC which the Club Network claims is incapable of raising the theoretical level of our movement.

How does repetition of these formulations by the Club Network represent a significant break with the past? How will the Clubs insure that these same formulations do not lead to the dogmatism and empiricism into which previous organizations which used these phrases have fallen? Like its treatment of Communist history, the Club Network’s discussion of theory and theoretical practice fails to articulate solid original advances in understanding and to break with the conceptions prevalent throughout the anti-dogmatist forces, including PWOC.

First, Marxist-Leninist theory is not just a body of general principles. Marxism-Leninism is a methodology and conceptual system which represents proletarian class positions in theory and enables Communists to approach the world and change it from a scientific proletarian perspective. Second, Marxism-Leninism is an historical process, a process whose creative development was blocked and distorted in the 1930’s and 1940’s, a distortion out of which emerged not just Browderism and the Soviet revisionism of the Khruschev period, but Euro-Communism, and the current class collaborationist line of the Communist Party of China.[9]

An all rounded dialectical appreciation of the theory and practice of Marxism in this period (1930’s-1950’s), in both its positive and negative aspects, is a vital necessity for our movement, if it is to go forward.

To speak simply of “reconfirming the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism” without reference to the importance of this task and the difficulties involved, or even to the manner in which we should approach it, is to call for the development of a general political line without appreciating the extent to which we are lacking the theoretical tools necessary to approach this task.

We, too, are for the development of a general political line for our movement; but we recognize that this endeavor will be accomplished, not by means of some “universal principles,” but by a body of advanced theoretical concepts and methodology, freed from the legacy of dogmatism and appropriate to the present world situation and creative Marxism.

3. Armed with Marxism-Leninism, the Club Network proposes that the general political line of the Communist Party before 1956 be rectified in light of analyses of the current state of the world, U.S. society, the American working class and the Communist movement.

But, there are serious questions as to what the Clubs mean by “rectification.” They premise the entire concept on the asserted proletarian character of the general line of the CPUSA prior to 1956. We have tried to point out the weakness of this assertion. Moreover, they fall to recognize the real tasks that can be termed rectification: the reexamination of International Communist history and practice, and the deepening and developing of a Marxist-Leninist conceptual framework and methodology. As the Clubs have laid it out, they have severely restricted the “rectification tasks” on the agenda before our movement.

Nonetheless, the Club Network presents us with a whole series of particular class, economic, social and political conditions which require analysis before we can produce a general political line. This point, like the two previous ones, has a familiar ring to it. From its beginnings, the new Communist movement has recognized the need for analyses in these and other areas. What is lacking in the Club Network’s plan is precisely what we need today a proposal on how we are going to theoretically approach these problems in such a way as to avoid the dogmatic and empiricist solutions which are our legacy from the past. The Club Network avoids this difficulty entirely, once again leaving unanswered the question: How does this new party-building line differ concretely from previous conceptions?

On its surface, the party-building line of the Club Network is both logical and sensible. In its emphasis on theoretical tasks and its goal of a general political line to guide our movement, it cannot be faulted. However, in ignoring the ambiguities and difficulties inherent in what it sets out to do, the Club Network runs the risk of falling into the very errors it seeks to avoid.

GENERAL FEATURES OF THE CLUB NETWORK’S PARTY-BUILDING PLAN

Having discussed the party-building line of the Club Network, we must now turn to its plan for implementing that line. At first glance, this plan is striking in its novelty. The Club Network writes:

To concretely carry out the rectification of the general line of the U.S. communist movement a broad rectification movement embracing the entire Marxist-Leninist movement is required. Such a movement must address the host of particular questions which face the communists as components of a general line, and eventually the movement’s leading forces must synthesize these various particulars into a general line.[10]

This party-building plan has four essential stages. Let us look at them in some detail.

First, the Club Network argues that the variety of tasks involved in the rectification movement and the scattered character of our forces at present necessitates a multiplicity of organizational forms to carry out these tasks. Now, it is one thing to recognize that at present our movement is divided and fractionalized, and in need of individual Communists becoming organizationally affiliated; and quite another to welcome and praise this fragmentation, and not recognize its negative effects. But the Club Network does not seem to sufficiently take into account these negative features, welcoming this phenomenon in an unqualified manner, when it says: “a wide scope of organizational forms which are particular to each task must be encouraged to blossom in this period.”[11] (emphasis added)

For all its talk about the “subjective factor” the Club Network has failed to take into sufficient account the strong anti-localism spirit that has been growing steadily in our movement. This concern for some kind of national unity amidst the profusion of left sects impelled many groups not only to break with dogmatism but also to join the Organizing Committee.

The Club Network’s encouragement of further proliferation goes against this quest for unity. It is one thing to say that Communist unity must be principled and that in the absence of a vanguard party there will be a tendency for small groups to multiply. But to be indifferent to, or worse, encourage further multiplication and division of Communist organizations at a time when sectarianism and the small circle spirit are still widespread is to capitulate to a very serious error.

In this first stage, says the Club Network, the various groups involved in rectification should each concern themselves with a single theoretical problem or task. The Club Network argues that such specialization is necessary because in this period all-sided guidance to cadre is impossible and attempting it will only fetter the ideological and political struggle.

Extreme specialization and increased division of labor are characteristic of advanced capitalism. Their negative effects on the working class are well-known. In Capital, Marx vividly portrays how specialization turns workers into “crippled monstrosities” with one skill over-developed, while the other faculties wither and atrophy. Before a policy of such specialization in party building will win acceptance in our movement, it would seem that two things will have to be proven: a) that such specialization will not have the same negative effect of one-sided, distorted development as it does in capitalist society as a whole; and b) that such a policy will not foster, but rather counter localism at the same time that it builds a party spirit among its practitioners.

Put another way, the basic question we are posing here is: What will be the effect on the rank and file of the Communist movement if this plan of specialization is put into effect? How well developed theoretically will the majority of our movement be after it has spent an indeterminant time examining a single problem or task? The Club Network puts it very well when it writes: “our problem is that we do not have enough trained leaders with a breadth of vision taking responsibility for the movement as a whole.”[12] (emphasis added) We could not agree more, but fail to see how narrowing the scope of cadre study will alleviate the problem of a lack of leaders capable of developing an all-sided view of the way forward.

While the Club Network correctly places emphasis on our work within the party-building movement in this period, it fails to elaborate the process by which we develop advanced cadre within a Communist organization. That is, even if the Clubs desired to provide leadership to the development of the various political and theoretical tasks, what is the nature of their internal education and practice such that Club cadre would be able to provide advanced leadership? What are the priorities of cadre development within the clubs: holding forums and seminars on the rectification line, participating in Southern Africa work from a “party-building perspective,” doing their own theoretical and rectification work? On these issues we hear nothing. Thus, just as the clubs underestimate the difficulties in producing advanced theory, so they seem to underestimate the difficulties in the process by which we develop cadre who can produce and guide the production of advanced theory.

The Club Network’s remarks on the organizational practice necessary in this first stage, the present stage of party building, appears to be contradictory. On the one hand, they write: “even in this pre-party period we must struggle to develop and practice the communist principles of organization.”[13] Simultaneously, however, they insist that the organizational basis of these pre-party forms should not be full democratic centralism but something less than that. “We will consciously limit the nature of our democratic centralism,” they write, “to ensure that it does not fetter the ideological and political interaction with the communist movement as a whole.”[14]

What is this partial democratic centralism? How does it work? What are its “limits”? Does “full” democratic centralism hinder, or in fact facilitate a Communist organization’s interaction with the movement as a whole? We were unable to find answers to these questions in the writings of the Club Network.

We do not stand opposed (quite the contrary) to the necessary development of the Leninist conception of organization. Yet the Club Network puts forward an original conception of Communist organizational practice in this period without the required demonstration of its actual character or its compatability with Leninism. In a time in which Euro-Communism and social democracy are waging an ideological offensive against democratic centralism and the Leninist conception of organization, it is hard to see how the Network’s position, as it stands, will contribute to defeating these forces or increasing our own understanding of these questions.

The second stage in the Club Network’s party-building plan is the stage in which the general line is created. The Club Network writes:

Once the rectification movement has reached a certain stage ... it will be possible for the leading comrades in the movement to attempt a synthesis of all our theoretical work into a single general line. It is when this synthesis is developed and a number of leading comrades have united around it, that we can say that a general leading ideological, political and organizational center or party core is built.[15] (emphasis added)

The contrast between stage one and stage two is unmistakable. While the Communist movement as a whole can do particular work in the direction of a general political line, only “a number of leading comrades” can create the general line itself. This distinction, between the leading cadre who will forge the party core and the rank and file of our movement who will merely “make up the future party membership”[16], constantly reappears in the documents of the Club Network. When we read that, “today we see the necessity for leading individuals to take responsibility for building the movement and forging a leading center”[17] (emphasis added), we can only ask why is it only the responsibility of leading individuals? Is not this a task for our entire movement? Is this distinction between leading individuals and the movement as a whole necessary and healthy? Is it a mere ideological formulation or is it indicative of a definite style of work?

The Club Network appears to be unaware of the contradiction between asserting that the rectification movement will train Communist cadre and raise their theoretical level, while at the same time asserting that the cadre will not be capable of participating in the actual production of the general political line and the party center. And it also seems unaware of the ideological contradiction between its persistent emphasis on “leading individuals” and its determination to “combat bourgeois individuals which is such a predominant current within the U.S. Communist movement.”[18]

This stage in the Network’s party-building plan points up one of the key differences between the primacy of theory line which we have consistently put forward in the Theoretical Review and the rectification line. We believe that it is possible to raise the theoretical-political level of our movement to the point that the overwhelming majority of cadre will be able to participate, not just in specific areas of work, but in an all-round way in the struggle for and the production of a general political line for our movement. This does not mean that uneven development of cadre will be magically overcome, or that leadership will cease to play a critical and irreplaceable role. It does mean that we see the formation of a leading center and a general political line as a collective process at all levels and not restricted to the individual efforts of leading comrades.

The third stage in the Club Network’s party-building plan begins when the general political line has been established and the party core of leading comrades asserts itself, attempts to “win other Marxist-Leninists to the synthesis it has developed and begins the actual organizational process of party reestablishment – building in the Communist fashion from the center outwards.”[19]

The fourth stage begins when the party itself is established. (Since this will be in the indefinite future, neither the Club Network, nor ourselves, are discussing this now.)

The Club Network defines the third stage party core as an all-sided, pre-party formation guided by a correct Communist general political line. The core proceeds toward the creation of the party by rallying around it the rest of the movement. Let us examine this scenario in its historical context, for it is essentially a reformulation at the level of ideas of the actual practice of party building attempted by the various dogmatist sects: a) a small group of leaders together are convinced that they have the correct line, they unite and call themselves the leading center; b) their general line is produced not out of a movement-wide struggle, but the synthesis of the views of these individuals; c) the leaders insist that they are the party core around which all others must rally.

Comrades in the Club Network should be conscious of what they are saying. They are correct when they criticize the fusionists for overlooking the essentially fusionist character of the Revolutionary Union and October League’s conception of party building. But they themselves have failed to note that their own party-building plan (once the general political line has been established) is identical to that followed by the dogmatist sects.

Of course it is true, as the Club Network says, that the “left opportunists” did not create a genuine Communist party and that they lacked a correct general political line. But what will prevent the “leading individuals” who synthesize the general political line from making the same mistakes, if this process is divorced from a movement-wide debate in which they are responsible to collective theoretical-political practice? Being responsible in some abstract way, only to the movement, what will keep them from promoting hegemonism or advancing an incorrect general line?

To put forward the proposition that a correct general political line can be created by a few individuals before it is tested and fought out in a nation-wide struggle is to dangerously narrow the base of that general line and enormously increase the danger of reproducing the hegemonist political practice of the dogmatist sects.

Some will misconstrue our remarks as anti-leadership or anti-intellectual in character. Indeed, our remarks would be irresponsible if we were to demand a movement-wide struggle around political line in the absence of the necessary theoretical-political preparation, in the absence of advanced Communist cadre. For us, party building means precisely that, training the entire movement, not just in mass struggles but in theoretical-political struggles as well. It means creating the Communist cadre to actually forge a general political line and leading center in the heat of party building struggle, instead of limiting that process to a small circle of leaders.

FUSION AND THE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR AN IDEOLOGICAL CENTER (OC-IC)

The line of the Club Network is at its best in its critique of the fusion line on party building, as this line was originally put forward. The fusion line argues that the key to party building is the fusion of Communism with the spontaneous working class struggles. The Clubs target the fusionists’ erroneous assumption that the theory, ideology and political line necessary to fuse Communism with the workers’ movement already exists, and the empiricism, pragmatism and bowing to spontaneity which results from this conception.

Furthermore, the Club Network recognizes that the fusion line is not static, but has been undergoing steady modification as a result of systematic criticism of it from a number of perspectives (the leadership of the Network takes much of the credit for these criticisms, ignoring the contributions of others such as the Ann Arbor Collective and the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective, the Theoretical Review and the Red Boston Study Group).[20] Nonetheless, the Club Network’s determined opposition to the fusion strategy poses in a sharp and direct manner the issue of which party-building line can best lead our movement forward.

However, since the Club Network’s critique of the fusion line flows from its own party-building line, the unfortunate weaknesses of the rectification position reappear in the critique of fusion. Predominant among these is the inability of the Club Network to get to the roots of the errors of the fusion line. Its critique does not start from a rigorous identification of the various Leninist practices (political, ideological, theoretical) but rather from a listing of deviations: economism, empiricism, pragmatism. While the Network recognizes that fusion is a reaction against the dogmatist and left errors of the new Communist movement, it does not delve into the sources of this reaction other than to note its similarity to the economist line criticized by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?

It is true that the fusion line resembles the Russian economism of 1901-02. Lenin, for example, spoke of the economism of his time in words which carry equal force today:

...the fundamental errors that all the economists commit ... [is] their conviction that it is possible to develop the class political consciousness of the workers from within, so to speak, their economic struggle, i.e., making this struggle the exclusive (or at least the main) starting point, making it the exclusive, or, at least, the main basis.[21]

But surely no one would seriously argue that the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee studied Rabocheye Deylo (the Russian economists’ newspaper) in order to come up with the fusion line.

If the Club Network does not seek out the historical origins of the fusion line, perhaps it is because to do so would demonstrate that for a long time the fusionists have practiced, even if unconsciously, the rectification line! By this we mean that the fusionists have done what the Club Network wants us to do – they have gone back to the line and practice of the Communist Party, USA, “when it was revolutionary” and brought that line and practice up to date. The fusion line and practice of intervention in the spontaneous economic struggles of the working class is ultimately derived from the study of the practice of the Communist Party in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

If it is derived from the “correct general line” of a “revolutionary Communist Party,” why is the fusion line economist? Perhaps because the fusionists distorted the general political line of the Communist Party, USA? We think not. We have seen that an examination of the practice of the Communist Party in the 1930’s and 1940’s provides abundant evidence to prove Charles Bettelheim’s assertion that, in this period, the world Communist movement (of which the CPUSA was a part) was dominated by an economist approach to economic struggle and political practice.[22] Economism is not the invention of the fusionists; the fusion line is just the latest form that economism has taken because Communists have not been able to consciously identify it in our own history and practice and, thus, demarcate ourselves from it.

As is true of political practice, so it is also true for theoretical practice. Economisim is a deviation specific to political practice; empiricism is a deviation specific to theoretical practice. The historical origins of these deviations in our own movement have the same source: our uncritical acceptance of the legacy of Soviet Marxism in the 1930’s where the blockage and distortion of creative theory opened the door to empiricism and pragmatism, economism and voluntarism.

Both the fusionists and the Club Network have yet to openly acknowledge the true character of Soviet Marxism and its long-term effects on Communist theory and practice, that of the Communist Party, USA, and of our own. Because of this, they are unable to locate the historical sources of the present crisis of our movement. Further, in failing to locate the historical origins of economism and empiricism, the Club Network is unable to adequately critique the fusion line and to pose a fundamentally viable alternative. Like the fusionists, its starting point is the line and practice of the Communist Party, USA, which cannot be taken as our model is we are to go forward.

If the Club Network shares with the fusionists an erroneous picture of our Communist past, it at least has a clearer picture of our present. The Network recognizes that we are, indeed, a movement separate and distinct from the dogmatists (or the left opportunists as the Club Network calls them). This is a position which is not shared by the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee.

Clay Newlin, the leader of that organization, has said:

We oppose the view strongly, advanced by some, that a single anti-revisionist movement no longer exists. And we oppose it for two reasons. First, a genuine and thorough break with ultra-leftism has yet to be made ...And second, a positive alternative has yet to be developed.[23]

It is a well-known proposition of Marxism that while being determines consciousness, consciousness as a general rule lags behind being. Now, objectively, the lines and practices of the dogmatist movement and the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist movement represent qualitatively different trends in political practice, while still sharing certain elements in common. Clay Newlin’s comments that we lack a “thorough break” and a “positive alternative” to ultra-leftism merely register the fact that the consciousness of our movement has lagged behind actual events, in the same way that our conscious break with the class collaborationists has only been recently consolidated, even though the actual break can be said to have come at the time of the Angolan war, three years ago. The Club Network does not deny this lag, but, most importantly, it does not deny the objective existence of two distinct movements.

ASSESSING THE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR AN IDEOLOGICAL CENTER (OC-IC)

The Club Network assesses the Organizing Committee as essentially a federation of fusionist groups whose party-building line and practice cannot lead our movement to the formation of a genuine Communist party. The Network makes three arguments in this regard: a) the leading line in the Organizing Committee is fusionist; b) the Organizing Committee’s conception of forging a leading center cannot succeed because it does not start from a correct general line, but seeks to produce that line around the lowest common denominator of unity through an essentially federationist organizational approach; and c) an ideological center must be formed around party-building line. For these reasons, the Network has decided that it cannot join the Organizing Committee.

The Club Network acknowledges that a primary reason why many groups joined the Organizing Committee was not because they were consolidated fusionists or because they were wedded to federationism, but because they felt the need to break out of local isolation and begin to take part in the national practice and struggles of our movement, no matter how rudimentary these were.

These groups were not convinced that the Organizing Committee’s plans were doomed to failure because they saw its development as fluid rather than static, developing rather than pre-determined. While there is merit to the debate on this issue, at present, the Organizing Committee is the leading center in our movement because so many of the groups continue to hold this view.

The Club Network states, “To form an organization whose purpose it is to develop a leading line is completely backwards.”[24] But is not the history of the new Communist movement a history of one sect after another, divorced from the rest of the movement, claiming that it alone is the depository of the correct line for all others to join or be damned? It is precisely the appeal of the Organizing Committee that it insists that the general line will not come from the pens of a handful of leaders, but from the input of many forces. And the Organizing Committee offers a national form in which to organize such a struggle.

The Club Network points out the dangers inherent in this approach (it fosters egalitarianism and lowest common denominator unity). What the Network has not done is present sufficient arguments to demonstrate that its own plan significantly lessens these and other dangers. Doing so will necessitate showing that the practice of rectification will not repeat the hegemonism of the left sects.

While the Club Network rejects membership in the Organizing Committee, it speaks with favor of joint work among all forces opposed to revisionism and ultra-leftism. The issue is not the incompatibility of the fusion and rectification line: but the value of a national organizational form which will organize and centralize the party-building discussion and debate. The Network’s dismissal of this national form: “we do not believe that the ideological struggle will be particularly enhanced or advanced simply by virtue of the fact that certain number of organizations hold formal membership in a council that will attempt to systematize and coordinate it”[25] is certainly unsatisfactory, particularly when it also says about itself, “A nation-wide formation helps provide the conditions for communist forces to break with localism and small circle mentality and sectarianism.”[26]

As long as many forces continue to believe in the openness of the Organizing Committee to change and transformation, they will view as premature and sectarian the Network’s decision not to first try and struggle for the rectification line within the Organizing Committee, which encompasses a majority of the organized anti-left opportunist forces, before going it alone.

SOME CONCLUSIONS

The Club Network tells us that “with the emergence of the line on rectification a new period in the history of our trend has begun.”[27] This may be so but our movement will have to be convinced with more than words. We all remember with what fanfare the Guardian Clubs were launched and how quickly Jack Smith’s plans collapsed. Our movement learned through bitter experience that, in the words of the Network:

for the Guardian majority a correct critique of fusion was principally an excuse to maintain the independence of the Guardian newspaper rather than principally a step in the direction of building a single genuine party that would supersede all existing Marxist-Leninist formations including the Guardian itself.[28]

It will take more than words; it will take a principled practice, a comradely style of work and ongoing criticism and self-criticism to demonstrate that the Club Network has broken with the Guardian tradition. The Communist movement is in need of more than an alternative to the fusion line or another leading center. What it requires is the rebirth of American Communism. The Club Network will be judged by its contribution to that process.

In this article, we have tried, in a comradely way, to raise questions and point out the ambiguities and difficulties in the party-building line and plan of the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs. In so doing, we have not ignored the positive and important features of their work. We have tried to show that the Club Network’s party-building line is based on a recognition of the primacy of theoretical tasks in the present period and an appreciation of the importance of cadre training and development.

At the same time, the Club Network starts from an erroneous assessment of the character and nature of the Communist Party, USA, before 1956, and a limited grasp of the nature and extent of our theoretical tasks and the problems involved in reviving Marxism-Leninism as a creative, living theory.

The Club Network’s party-building plan recognizes the issue of party-building line as central to the current struggles to advance our movement and appreciates the fact that we are no longer part of a single anti-revisionist movement which includes the dogmatist, class collaborationist sects. At the same time, its rectification plan seeks to limit and narrow the theoretical training of the masses of Communist cadre while reserving for leading individuals the task of producing a general line and winning the movement to it.

The Club Network’s critique of the fusion position on party building, as far as it goes, is a succinct and well-written polemic, which pinpoints many of the major errors of the fusionists. At the same time, by failing to delve into the roots of fusionism and its errors, the Club Network’s critique is considerably limited.

Finally, the Club Network’s decision not to join the Organizing Committee and its characterization of this formation is at variance with the views of a majority of the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist forces who see the Organizing Committee as a useful form within which to organize and advance the party-building debate.

The Club Network is a new organization, just coming into being. As it grows and matures, it will hopefully extend, deepen and even rectify its position on many of these questions and we look forward to participating with it in the process of creating a genuine Communist party in the USA.

Endnotes

[1] The development of the primacy of theory line, as we have presented it, can be traced from the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective paper, Party-Building Tasks in the Present Period: On Theory and Fusion, through the various party-building articles in the Theoretical Review, especially “The Primacy of Theory and Political Line” in issue #7 (Sept.-Oct. 1978).

[1a] See Irwin Silber’s letter of resignation as Guardian executive editor, published in Theoretical Review #8 (Jan.-Feb., 1979).

[2] Developing the Subjective Factor (hereafter called Subjective Factor), 1979, p. 5.

[3] Ibid., p. 13.

[4] William Z. Foster, “On the Party Situation,” Political Affairs(Oct., 1956), p. 42.

[5] Earl Browder, The People’s Front (International, 1938), pps. 239, 240.

[6] For an interesting, if contradictory, discussion of Communist theory and practice after 1935, see On the Roots of Revisionism (Revolutionary Road Publications, 1979), especially chapter 15.

[7] In Rectification vs. Fusion, pps. 21-32.

[8] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, published in On Revolution (Karl Marx Library, vol. 1), p. 245.

[8a] A general political line is the overall strategic and programmatic orientation which guides all the various practices of a Communist organization. It is not merely the sum total of many specific political lines but the essential strategic conception of how to organize and prepare the masses for the seizure of state power in the specific national conditions in which the organization finds itself. A general political line is given political-ideological specificity in a party program.

[9] On this last point see Paul Costello’s “World Imperialism and Marxist Theory: On the International Line of the Communist Movement”, in Theoretical Review #9 (March-April, 1979).

[10] Subjective Factor, p. 36.

[11] Documents from the Founding Conference of the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs (hereafter called Documents), p. 31.

[12] Rectification vs. Fusion, p. 49.

[13] Documents, p. 34.

[14] Ibid., pps. 35-36.

[15] Subjective Factor, p. 38.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Documents, p. 39.

[18] Ibid., p. 36.

[19] Subjective Factor, p. 38.

[20] The Red Boston Study Group was the author of “Primacy of Theory and the Guardian Clubs,” published in Theoretical Review #3 (3an.-Feb., 1978).

[21] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, pps. 421-22.

[22] Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, vol. 1 (Monthly Review, 1977).

[23] Rectification vs. Fusion, p. 27.

[24] Documents, p. 42.

[25] Rectification vs. Fusion, p. 19.

[26] Documents, p. 33.

[27] Rectification vs. Fusion, p. 20.

[28] Subjective Factor, p. 33.