First Published: Internal Bulletin #1, July 23, 1973.
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.
1. Given the decline in Challenge-Desafio sales, and the fact that our rate of recruitment is not as strong as it should be, it is clear that there has been a right wing trend within the party. Two years ago we launched a major struggle against sectarianism within the party. Although sectarian weaknesses in the work are still there, there have been certain improvements. There is a lot more union work going on, students are more integrated with fellow students, and we have developed a more flexible understanding of working with reform groups. Now there seems to be a shift to the right.
2. One of the problems with trying to understand this seeming pendulum swing from being “sectarian” to being “opportunist”, from being what seems to have been “too Left” to being “too Right-wing”, may lie in not really understanding just what communists mean with the words “sectarianism” and “opportunism.” There seems to be a certain notion among some comrades (and within myself, as well) that the two errors are dialectical opposites, like fire and water–in other words, that the two errors are exactly the opposite of each other, and that what we have to do is to strike a balance between these two “extremes” . To see it that way is to see it superficially, to only see the superficial form of those errors and to not understand the fundamental SIMILARITY between both of those errors. Fighting sectarianism itself did not create the right wing trend.
3. What makes PLP’s political line different from the political lines of the revisionists and the reformists (including the sincere ones) is a firm commitment to what is the most crucial principle underlying the analyses of Road to Revolution III. That idea says that THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVANCES THAT CAN COME OUT OF A STRUGGLE OR ACTION IS THE WINNING OF MORE PEOPLE TO THE STRUGGLE FOR REVOLUTION, FOR COMMUNISM, AND TO ALLY WITH AND JOIN THE PLP. That is more important than a wage hike. A wage hike is good to win, but can be taken away because the bosses have state power. It is much harder for them to “win back” a worker who has chosen to dedicate himself or herself to revolutionary struggle than it is for them to take away a wage hike. (Of course the bosses can “win back” a certain number of revolutionaries; but it is not easy for them unless the party is making serious errors.)The Paris Commune, the Attica Rebellion – working class rebels are murdered and their immediate demands are not won. Yet PLP says that those struggles were victories for the working class. The Geneva Accords for Vietnam in 1954, the current Paris Peace negotiations, the Nixon visit to China these things (according to the newspapers) help bring “peace” to the world and will save many lives. Yet PLP says that those were defeats for the working class for the time being. Why? Because in the Paris Commune and Attica rebellions, the lessons of rebellion and revolution were grasped by millions. New and deeper understanding about capitalism and revolution were grasped by large numbers of people, and this understanding helped move world revolution, (which will free humankind and save many, many lives in the long run) this understanding helped organize people to move the revolutionary process along with determination and speed. The various “peace” negotiations on the other hand, only serve to (temporarily) confuse and mislead masses of people. These false lessons are as deadly as bullets; in fact they inevitably mean more suffering, exploitation, and bullets for the working class. To sum up, then: WHAT MATTERS MOST OF ALL IS WINNING PEOPLE TO FIGHT FOR REVOLUTION, SOCIALISM, AND COMMUNISM. Any activity which does that should be judged an advance; any activity which does not do that should be judged a setback.
4. Now relate this to the questions of “sectarianism” and “opportunism”. Sectarianism is not the result of being “too Left.” Sectarianism means that you are not getting involved with people on the day to day level of their immediate struggles against the system AND THEREFORE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO EFFECTIVELY WIN THEM TO COMMUNISM! It is NOT sectarian to attack McGovern, Chavez, and Mao when they sell out workers; that has nothing to do with sectarianism. If anything it is sectarian to NOT criticize them because to be nice to them would be to set ourselves against all the working class people whom those three are hurting. Sectarianism means that you are not seriously trying to win masses of people to communism. It means not seriously struggling with those people who have right wing ideas and not trying to change them. Opportunism is exactly the same thing – it is an unwillingness to struggle against right wing ideas and right wing mis-leaders. How can one error be an antidote for another? It can’t! In one city, for example, the party had work in a particular union, but it was mainly agitational. Papers were sold and PLP had some presence on the job, but party members were not seriously involved in union issues. They were not in the position of being in serious struggle in the union as a way of showing fellow unionists how their own experiences point out the need for socialism. To improve the work, they got more active in the union, were involved in a few actions, speak up a lot at union meetings, etc. But Challenge sales dropped off, study-action base groups withered away, and while the members made friends, there was even less of a party presence than before. That is in part because the members thought that the earlier weakness was that they were not involved in the union. This is only partly true. The political nature of the error was that we were not in a good position to win people to communism!
This shallow misunderstanding leads to shallow rectification – “simply get involved in the union,” instead of concluding “We have to win more fellow workers to the party, and we have to use the union as a tool to heat up the struggle, so we should get more involved in the union.” Result–more opportunism. Rather than getting bogged down in terms like “opportunism” and “sectarianism” which are sometimes seen as tactical questions, it is better to first ask the basic political question: how can we win these particular people to fight for communism, explicitly and consciously, and to win them to the party. To change the form of the error without changing the substance will only make things worse. In Road to Revolution III, the PLP broadcasted loud and clear “THE MASSES NEED REVOLUTION AND SOCIALISM, AND THE MASSES CAN BE WON TO USING MARXISM-LENINISM AND THE PARTY AS THE WAY TO WIN SOCIALISM.” It is our job to win the masses, organize the masses into a politically conscious fighting force that will destroy capitalism.
5. The key then is to Judge all our actions, strategies, even the articles in Challenge by that principle. If an article in Challenge calls for supporting the meat boycott and says nothing else, is that article moving the understanding of the masses closer to communism, or is it telling the working class to unite behind Ethel Rosen, an upper-middle class liberal from a rich Chicago suburb? The People’s Tribune column is a good idea, and can be a good way to overcome sectarianism.
But when we interview six or seven people and none of them puts forward the party line, and one even goes so far as to say that the main problem nowadays is that nobody trusts anyone very much, and when that appears in Challenge with no response or critique or even a friendly comment disagreeing with that, does that advance the working class’ understanding? Probably not. Challenge is basically very good, and People’s Tribune can be a good idea; but in our eagerness to fight sectarianism and be “where the people are at”, we cannot encourage (rather, we should not encourage) people to accept false notions about the nature of reform movements, the nature of the ruling class, or the idea that the working class world-wide and in the U.S. can live decent lives without making a revolution and building socialism. MISLEADERSHIP is the essence of what is opportunism.
6. There is no such thing, really, as a political line which is “center.” Part of the confusion may come from believing that there are three political lines in a situation, the Left, the Right, and the “Center.” The “Center” is not some third type of location which is neither Left nor Right. On the contrary, what we mean by “Center” is that it has elements of both Left and Right. There are only two lines–the Left, and revolution, and the Right, and capitalism. A “Center” person is someone who can be won to the Left but who has a lot of Right-wing ideas. Therefore, the center is not a group separate from the Party and the ruling class with whom the party has to make friends before the ruling class wins them over. The “Center’s” lives are intertwined with BOTH the need for revolution AND deep rooted bourgeois ideology. THE ONLY WAY TO WIN THE CENTER IS TO STRUGGLE . You don’t win a tug-of-war game by trying not to pull on the rope too hard. The masses have brains; we won’t win them by avoiding struggle or by being opportunist.
7. Some comrades used to have few or no friends on the job but maybe went through the motions of carrying out the party line by merely conducting agitational work in a seemingly “sharp” way. In struggling against sectarianism, many members made friends on the job or campus. That was good but it really was not, deserving of a medal; most people make friends on campus or the job. Every party member must seriously ask herself or himself whether they are only going through the motions, the superficial forms of carrying out the line by either agitating in an isolated way or having friends in an apolitical way. WE ARE IN THE PARTY TO BUILD THE REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT. Apolitical friendships are very important, crucial In fact. But political relationships and friendships are more important. Apolitical friendships often move Left as the friend realizes that even the most personal types of problems are caused by capitalism. Some friendships may take longer to move LEFT, and we should still maintain them. BUT WE SHOULD ALWAYS BE WORKING, IN A FRIENDLY WAY, TO MOVE THAT FRIEND TO THE LEFT. Real friendships, even “apolitical” relationships consist of people trying to help each other out with their problems. If we are “true friends” to our acquaintances, we would be trying to win them to revolutionary struggle and to the party. At a minimum there should be struggle against reactionary ideas that prevent that friend from understanding and solving her or his problem–reactionary ideas like racism, male chauvinism, and particularly cynicism which is a very political reactionary idea.
8. There seems to be a certain amount of subjectivism within the party as in much of the “movement” about the current period. Mass actions have declined somewhat, the anti-war movement is quiet, the strike wave seems to have declined and armed rebellions led by black and latin working class people have become less common. There have been government cuts of some social services which the working class won, and there is the notion around that Nixon is more ready to use fascist repression and overt force to crush an insurgent movement. “We are in a new period” some people say. Well, that is partly true. But it is NOT true that the movement has necessarily retreated. While there seems to be less reform struggle than before, the decline is not really as great as it seems. Strikes are still commonplace, though we are not in a strike wave. Demonstrations against social service cuts and police brutality are not rare. What has happened is that a certain number of people are cynical about reform struggle because of the crushing of the ghetto rebellions, the continual sell-out of union leaders and big-time politicians, and the open murder of liberal reform students. Some might say that the student movement has retreated because a student might say “Why should I demonstrate; I know now that the government has no qualms about killing me if I get in their way.” Is it a retreat in someone’s consciousness for them the realize that the government is a dictatorship? No, not necessarily. Not at all!, unless the Left allows the once militant center to fall for the ruling class line of cynicism and lose confidence in the ability of the working class and allies to change the world.
In other words, the party is in a terrific position to win over millions of people who have moved left since the 1960’s. The “climate of the times” is another way of saying: the particular way the ruling class is using the carrot and the stick in a particular period of time.* Superficial generalizations about how “such-and-such” a time period is really “better” for party building is both idealist, unscientific and reactionary. Many communist parties have grown tremendously in “adverse” periods – such as fascist repression. Other communist parties were able to grow during eras of relative “liberalism.” What really determines whether the party increases in size and quality is THE LINE OF THE PARTY, AND THE PRACTICE OF THE MEMBERSHIP.
It is true that we have to become more adaptable in our tactics as the ruling class changes theirs. But their strategy is the same, and ours must be the same: winning masses to Marxism-Leninism to smash capitalism. The masses are still oppressed during this “new era”; they still need to fight back; we still need to fight back, and we all still need Marxism-Leninism and the party to be able to win. The 1970’s need not be a repeat of the 1950’s when the U.S. movement was set back. The reason it was a setback was because of the errors of the Left and even then it was only a few years before the masses again began reconstructing the movement.
9. Within the party, some of the subjectivism no doubt comes from the fact that mass struggle seems to have declined; most of our members are young and were recruited during a period when the mass movement was particularly potent, with simultaneous struggles in the factories, communities, and campuses. As a result, they do not have enough of a sense of the twists and turns of a developing movement; a twist or turn in the movement need not be a retreat.
One problem is that not enough comrades have an understanding of how their work can help lead to a revolution in this country. Similarly, do most members have a sense of what they will be doing in ten years, or even one year? Do we have an understanding or a plan of what our particular club will be doing in three or five years? Who will be the members, where will they be working, etc. Unfortunately, too many would say: “Three or five years? I guess we’ll be doing about the same thing.” With that notion, it is no wonder that some people say “Is it worth it?”
It is the responsibility of the party to clarify to the masses (as well learn from them) how particular groups and individuals can contribute to building the revolution. It is the responsibility of the party leaders to clarify to the membership (as well as learn from them) how particular collectives and individuals can contribute to building the revolutionary struggle. For example, suppose we have a club working in the AFT (teachers). No doubt there is discussion about day to day work within the union (hopefully). But is there an understanding of how we are going to work to build a left center coalition to take power in the union, to get the local union to support the struggles of other workers locally, to build a nation-wide caucus within AFT, to try to dump the current leadership (and maybe get kicked out in the process)? What role would a Left Center coalition led in part by the party have if we were In a situation like Philadelphia when they nearly had a general strike, or Detroit during the ghetto rebellion? What role could such a union play in building a revolution? How can We create a situation within that union to enable us to give leadership now and in the more turbulent times that are sure to come? In other words, are all party members thinking strategically about the role of their collective in the revolutionary process I’m sure we all think tactically somewhat; and I’m sure that there is some (though definitely not enough) general discussion around questions of China, USSR, works by Lenin, Marx, etc.
Is there enough discussion about the state of the mass movement in which we are working; are we engaged in serious study of the broad class forces and how they are aligned within our own area of work? M-L theory can help us interpret the reality of the situation, but it can’t be found in “The State and Revolution” the facts about which groups of people are likely to behave in which types of ways within the AFT in New York, for example.
10. To a large degree, subjectivism within the party is related to how much we try to build a base for communist ideas. We want to get others to join the party. Well, ask yourself – Why did you yourself join the party?? Probably it was because you were involved In struggle at some level against some part of the system, and came to understand that YOU NEEDED THE PARTY in order to improve your work, and in order to win. It became clear that YOU NEEDED THE COLLECTIVE to help plan and discuss your work. Well, YOU STILL NEED THE PARTY! And the MASSES STILL NEED THE PARTY. So why does anyone have the right to keep the masses from getting what they need. We don’t need a lot of fancy words to understand what revisionism is – revisionism is TRYING TO KEEP THE MASSES FROM GETTING WHAT THEY NEED. They NEED PLP; they NEED Challenge; they NEED to understand that McGovern, Mao, Meany, Rockefeller, Senator Ervin, and Cesar Chavez are not their friends. If we keep Challenge and PLP from the masses, we are helping keep them in slavery to the murderous system. If we don’t attack something rotten, then we are saying that it is not so bad and we (in effect) are supporting it. I don’t mean to get moralistic, but the only way to understand ANY political question is to understand what it means in real live terms, life and death terms to the working class and its allies. You don’t “feel” like selling Challenge? That means you donít “feel” like telling workers what they need to know to save their lives and the lives of their children. The main thing about Challenge is not that it is a nifty way to meet new contacts. That can be very important, but the MAIN thing about Challenge is that it can clarify and explain to thousands or millions of working class people things they need to know, NEED to know.
11. Now, nobody in the party wakes up in the morning and says “I think I’ll make revisionist errors today.” It comes from not realizing that you need revolution. And it comes in part from not realizing how your own particular work can contribute to revolutionary struggle. It is important for club meetings to be organized to deal with this problem. It may be Important to discuss ticket sales for some event, at a meeting, but a lot of that can also be done between meetings or informally. Sometimes it is necessary to discuss these things In meetings, but sometimes we spend too much time in meetings getting bogged down in very minute tactical questions which could be resolved outside of meetings. As a result a meeting might lag on, or just might not get to the study section, which gets put off until next week, unless another emergency comes up. Club leaders should try to talk with each club member at least once between meetings–leaders have to take more initiative. Almost nobody quits the party because they claim it is “too totalitarian;” very few people close to the party have dropped away because they felt that PLP was “too totalitarian” (though we may have been sectarian in certain instances.) In general, things start going downhill WHEN LEADERSHIP IS NOT STRONG ENOUGH! People want leadership, just as we did when we joined PLP. Of course we have to be friendly and understanding. But if notions about being friendly and understanding keep us from giving strong leadership, then we are really up the creek. People don’t look towards PLP mainly to find friends; that is not why we joined PLP. For that you can join the YMCA. PLP is not the YMCA. The work, in fact, goes downhill when people lose confidence in leadership and party and don’t believe that we are “together enough”, organized well enough, to be able to move forward.
12. Some recommendations.
A) There must be more rank-and-file struggle within the party.
The ten or so bulletins which have come out around the convention have really been inspiring. There have been, in my opinion, a number of right wing articles as well as some Left-oriented articles. But all in all, the fact that dozens and dozens of rank and file party members have been working to contribute to the overall line of the party is a genuine step forward; we should continue to publish bulletins of this nature after the convention. But there is much more to do. The leadership has issued a number of bulletins very sharply criticizing themselves for being primarily responsible for the current right wing trend. That is basically true but doesn’t really let the rest of us off the hook. How many of us have spotted signs of the rightwing drift and instead of dealing with it or at least raising questions, we let it slide? Surely many of us noticed the decline in Challenge sales. How many of us have questions about the line but don’t raise them. If you have a question, chances are other PL members also have that question. Raise it! For example, the “Equal Rights Amendment” is a fairly big topic of discussion; most party members do not have a clear line on it. (I don’t either!) While it shouldn’t be the main thing we talk about, we should have a unified line on it. How many of us have tried to work out a line on that question, or at least raised questions so that the party could deal with it. Instead, we either don’t deal with it at all, or, more likely, we give this Nixon-sponsored bill uncritical support (after all, isn’t that fighting sectarianism^ Certainly we are against sex discrimination^ but not struggling to be clear on the reactionary quality of much of the ERA bill and then supporting it uncritically is exactly how revisionism can infect our work. Building a revolution is a complex job and we need everyone’s opinion: don’t be afraid to contribute, and don’t be afraid to be called wrong; if you are wrong, we and you all gain more clarity on it.–if you are right we all gain clarity on it. See the party as a tool to do a job and help make that tool better and stronger.
B) Meetings have to be better organized.
(1) Tactical discussion is important but much of that can be done between meetings. Clubs should be clear on how their particular work on a day to day basis is moving the party and working class closer to revolution.
(2) There should be an evaluation of a club members work every meeting or so (when was the last time your club systematically evaluated the work of the leader, or any member? Those discussions should deal mainly with how that members work can contribute to revolution, rather than simply offer tactical or criticisms of “attitude”, though these should be discussed also. There should be discussions of base building, (not simply lists of names) where we try to determine what the main obstacle to recruiting this or that person to the party is. We should see the reform movement as a school for communism in our base building; we win people not simply by talking to them and convincing them of the “logic” of revolution, but by joining them in fighting the system, helping structure their experiences so that they can see the need for the revolution and PL from their own experience.
(3) Our study has to be improved. It is not enough to read only PL material and occasionally something by Marx or Lenin. We need to study the alignment of the class forces today as they affect our work; we need to study it in terms of Marxist theory, and we need to study it as it relates to our day to day work. This strategic study can link our day to day work with Marxist literature and help us understand both in terms of each other instead of sometimes narrowly, pragmatically discussing day to day work and other times narrowly reading Lenin in the abstract. It is critical to have clear in our minds the relationship between our day to day work and the revolutionary process if we are to sustain our commitment over the years.
C) Boost Challenge sales and recruitment; pay careful attention to Party Base Action-Study groups.
This is the heart of our strategy and political line as expressed in Road to Revolution III – THE MOST IMPORTANT GAINS THAT CAN COME OUT OF ANY STRUGGLE, ANY ACTIVITY, IS THE WINNING OF MORE PEOPLE TO CONSCIOUSLY SEE THE NEED FOR USING MARXISM-LENINISM AS THE ONLY WAY TO BUILD SUCCESSFUL REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE TO END OPPRESSION, AND TO CONSCIOUSLY SEE THE NEED, FOR ALLYING WITH. BUILDING AND JOINING THE PROGRESSIVE IABOR PARTY.
Author’s Note: If this could be printed right after the original article, it would probably be better, make the point more sharply.
* * *
In a recent article I wrote for one of the bulletins, entitled, “The Party, the Current Period, and fighting the Right-Wing Trend” I put forward one point which in retrospect seems a bit one-sided. In point #11 on page 6 of that report I wrote: “People don’t look towards PLP mainly to find friends; that is not why we joined PLP. For that you can join the YMCA. PLP is not the YMCA.”
That section seems to downplay the importance of having deep and well rounded social relationships between party members and their base, and within the party as well. To advocate that would be a serious error; the ruling class has many ways of winning people to serve it, or at least to prevent people from fighting it. Many of those ways are weapons which often appear to be only “matters of personality” or other seemingly non-political things. In order to really win people to the party, and in order for members to sustain their commitment, it is necessary for the party and that person’s collective to BE FRIENDS with that person, and to help that individual work out his or her problems in a serious way. It would be entirely wrong, and would reflect a very narrow and naive notion of the many ways the ruling class can maintain its hold on people, even Communists in PLP, if we were to deny the importance of carrying on that aspect of the struggle. However, I would like to reiterate one of the main points of that article which is that all “friendships” have to be based on struggle of some sort, and if we do not struggle to help our acquaintances solve their problems, and win them to an outlook based on never exploiting a member or ally of the working class and working hard to defeat the ruling class, if we fail to do that with anyone, and especially with party members because we are concerned with “keeping the peace”, then, that kind of pseudo-“friendship” the working class can live without. PLP should not be interested in promoting bourgeois and reactionary notions of friendship; and leadership, while taking a well rounded approach and a sensitive approach to each members development, should never be vacillating, opportunist or weak. This only undercuts everyone’s confidence in the leadership, the party, and the entire working class as well. The ruling class works desperately hard to spread cynicism and to spread the idea that we, the working class, does not have the power to change the world; they are desperately afraid that as we grasp that fact more and more firmly, it will represent a major political victory against them, and hasten their downfall all the more rapidly. Anyhow, I hope that clarifies what was somewhat one-sided in the original article.