Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A [4th] Congress summation from some B.C. sympathisers

First Published: In Struggle! Vol. 9, No. 27, June 22, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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We experienced the Congress in many different ways. It was both historic and emotional. We felt a sense of loss at dissolution when for us it was our first opportunity to meet, to feel comradeship with, and to discuss politics with others close to IN STRUGGLE! from across the country. The Congress validated many of our past and continuing concerns about and criticisms of the line and practice of the organization over the years. Still, we left the Congress feeling politically energized and motivated to figure out how to be communists and do communist work in Canada. We think that there are many others with whom we could work in the near future around the questions we have.

Who we are

We are four active sympathisers from B.C. (3 women and 1 man) who have worked with IN STRUGGLE! for periods of four to five years. Our attendance at the Congress was with some financial support from the organization and the encouragement and additional financial support of other sympathisers. We have been active in the teachers’ union, the newspaper committee, the distribution team, the women’s movement (daycare and abortion), the public sector, the national question (declaration) campaign, and the IN STRUGGLE! bookstore. One of us has led a reader’s circle and others have been public spokespersons for the organization. We have given both time and money to IN STRUGGLE! In public we appeared to be members, despite the fact than none of us ever applied for that status.

Where we begin

Our summation of the Congress brings together some insights on our history with the organization, our participation in the pre-Congress debates, and what we saw and heard at the Congress itself. For us, these things cannot be separated.

We are not starting from principles or models, but from our experience and our practice. Because we have lived and worked in B.C., most of our experience is with the B.C. region and the positions it took. Our own position, presented here, represents a clarity that developed during the Congress and in our discussions after it.

In general, we have a lot of agreement with many of the points in the Basis of Unity put forward by two comrades from B.C. (and the Group of 30) and with many of the criticisms of past practice raised by the Majority Consensus. But this agreement is not our main concern.

For us the main concern is that the process leading up to the Congress was consistent with and a continuation of a conception of political organizing that separated leaders from led, theory from practice, intellectuals from workers, the organization from the masses, and the vanguard from the people.

We believe that there is a need for a communist organization – but such an organization cannot be built until the process of building it and the process of working for socialism are addressed as fundamental political questions.

Dissolution: predictable but tragic

Although we approached the Congress with openness and with the goal of understanding the dimensions and nature of the crisis, dissolution appeared to be inevitable long before the first plenary session. It took our participation at the Congress to make us fully aware of the tragedy of this foregone conclusion.

Prior to the Congress we found the debate to be extremely polarized, both in the newspaper and in the B.C. region. The “turkeys vs. the revolutionaries”, “the dogmatists vs. those not afraid to question”, “the whites vs. the reds”, “those tied to old conceptions vs. those willing to learn from the past”, and “the right vs. the left” were typical characterizations of the two poles. It became clear to us at the Congress that this caricature of the debate fed the building momentum that led to dissolution.

It seemed to us that people on both “sides” came prepared to dissolve the organization, and that it was only the character of the Congress that forced any debate. In the workshops many of the proposed resolutions were rejected outright, or abstentions prevented their reaching the floor. Major votes at plenary sessions were mainly votes of rejection. People very clearly expressed their need to debate past practice and to reject erroneous positions and incorrect applications. For the most part, they refused to take sides with either the Group of 30 or the Majority Consensus. This was, in our opinion, a signal from the majority of Congress participants that they had concerns which were inadequately dealt with, or, more often not dealt with at all by the two major factions.

The presidium can take some credit for facilitating the debate that did occur. They correctly interpreted the mood as one of questioning and ambivalence, and they proposed agendas which worked to reflect the majority’s desire for real debate.

If the organization had been able to break with the way it waged debate when the crisis first emerged, a different script for the last year might have been written, and many of us could be working together today. This method of debate, which consisted of intellectuals demarcating from each other and the rest of us choosing from the established two-line struggle, was and is wrong. The tragedy for us is that even though by the time of the Congress a large number of people were ready to break with the past, by then it was too late – the organization no longer existed. As one comrade so aptly put it, “We spent five years fighting for a democratic Congress; finally we have a democratic Congress, and the first decision we make is to dissolve the organization.”

Preparation for this congress has gone on for years

There were some limitations to the pre-Congress debate that prevented us from adequately preparing or articulating our point of view. First of all, the debate on the crisis as it was presented in the newspaper did not break with past practice. We were treated to pronouncements and conclusions, not convincing arguments. Positions only moved to “entrench”, not to take into account, or answer new points others had raised.

As the committee structures in Vancouver began to fall apart, we became further isolated from the debate. For many years we were criticized or cut short when we wanted to talk of process or democracy. Then we were presented with a seemingly “clear cut” debate on the crisis. These things, combined with the lack of committee structures for political discussion, led to our inability to be critical of what we encountered. It should be mentioned that the absence of structures held a particular significance for us because over the years we had virtually eradicated political discussion in social situations. A few years previous, a group of us had been accused of building a “social nucleus” verging on factionalism when it was learned that we discussed politics (and, in particular, criticized the newspaper) at social gatherings of members and sympathisers. We were told that committees/nucleii were the appropriate place for such conversations.

Active sympathisers in Vancouver tried to convince the region to open their pre-Congress cell meetings, but were unsuccessful until the last minute. Our requests to participate on an equal footing (without a vote) were initially seen as attempts to take advantage of the organization rather than as an opportunity for the organization to learn from those closest to it. It was somehow inconceivable to members that a point of view could be expressed unless accompanied by a vote; inconceivable that a member could learn from a sympathiser. Then, a few weeks before the Congress, inexplicably and with no self-criticism, the decision was made to allow sympathisers to attend preparatory sessions. Bu the time participation was open to us, the only option in B.C. was to collaborate with the region’s project of winning the Congress.

Questions we had raised in the period before and leading up to the Congress (E.g. What is socialism? Is the organization really as polarized as you say? What about internal democracy? What is the process for developing a line? How could IN STRUGGLE! have carried out such diverse political practice with the same constitution and program?) were lost in a flurry of activity to demarcate from “social democrats” and “anti-communists”. For us, this was yet another example of the very thing the crisis was about. No wonder the same methods couldn’t resolve it.

Two minorities, one majority

If the organization was not as polarized as we had been led to believe, how do we now understand the various positions? On the one hand, the proponents of the Majority Consensus can be criticized for never really building a position. Instead they adopted a Crosscountry Checkup routine, hoping to appeal to anyone and everyone who expressed an opinion. While we had some initial sympathy with their criticisms of past practice and an understanding of their desire to break with that practice, it became clear at the Congress that they were trying to be all things to al people. The Majority Consensus (a least some of its members) claimed the “middle” for their own and spent the Congress attempting to reformulate their position so that it would be palatable.

On the other hand, the Group of 30 tendency had very clear answers to questions that almost no one was asking. They refused to see the Congress as a forum for useful debate. The votes rather than the process an content of the debates were seen as key. They came unprepared to work out differences at the Congress because for them the lines had already been drawn. The “middle” only existed inasmuch as it had the potential to be won to their point of view. This middle was characterized as “confused”, “vacillating”, ”reformist”, “obstructionist”, and “centrist” and was accused of being unwilling to express its “real” positions and to be responsible for the political consequences.

In fact, the “middle” was not a middle at all. We came to see them, and ourselves, as people who finally refused to continue to participate in a practice and process we found wrong.

The workshops held on Saturday allowed this point of view to come out. The most dramatic aspect of these workshops for us was the overwhelming support for the resolutions of the Democracy Collective (e.g. on our intervention in the masses, on the role of intellectuals, and on the role of men in the struggle for women’s liberation) and the lack of support for most anything else. The resolutions of the Democracy Collective became a symbol for all of those (including some in the Group of 30, the Majority Consensus, and unaligned) who demanded that the Congress be at least the beginning of a process of summing up our past practice.

This position was the majority position at the Congress. While still not clearly articulated (the process had not allowed that), and containing diverse viewpoints on many political questions, this majority made its voice heard in many ways:

– the large number of abstentions on Saturday
– the fact that although both “poles” were ready to adjourn the Congress early, the majority would not allow it
– the fact that people used essentially the same arguments to justify voting for, against, and abstaining on many resolutions
– the lack of hostility in the debates that all accounts had prepared us to expect

What we saw and heard were many common experiences and shared points of view on our past together.

The women’s resolution as an example of the politics of the congress

The debate on the resolution on women provides some good illustrations of the strengths and weaknesses of the events leading up to the Congress and at the Congress itself. From the start it was clear that the main issue was not mainly what was contained in the resolution. In fact, some fairly serious mis-readings and distortions occurred, e.g. nowhere does the resolution say that the working class has been, is, or should be the leading force in the fight for feminism.

There are common elements in the experience of women in IN STRUGGLE! For example, the problems of fostering participation and confidence among women, the denial of the personal as political, the sexism inherent in the organizational structures, and the failure of the organization to challenge the chauvinism of its members and of the working class were experienced nationally. As the debate progressed, it became clear that demarcation from past experience in IN STRUGGLE! was the issue, particularly for women from Quebec. What was needed was a resolution which accounted for this experience.

But women in B.C. have some unique experiences as well. We participated actively in IWD coalitions, and in daycare, abortion, and anti-rape groups as well as carrying on a continuing dialogue with the autonomous women’s movement. The resolution on women came out of this experience and out of our developing understanding of the feminist movement in English Canada.

Despite the diversity of experience of women across the country, we saw women vote for, against, and abstain on the resolution, while expressing quite similar views. We heard few, if any, women deny the relevance of class, assert that women’s liberation could be won under capitalism, or justify chauvinism in the name of class struggle. In spite of the outcome of the vote, there is real agreement on some major points, but there is even more agreement on the need to repudiate our incorrect past practice with regard to women.

The debate has just begun

If we have learned anything, it is that we do not accept that our only choices are to reject socialism or to rush headlong into creating a new organization based on “pure” principles with little regard for past error. Our agreement with others at this point is not on the need for a new organization, although we think that one must be built, but on the foundation that needs to be laid if an organization is ever to become a viable entity, capable of mobilizing communists and giving leadership in the struggle for socialism.

We will no longer put into the background concerns for democracy, political education, feminism, and personal support systems. For us, internal democracy and the relationship of the organization to the masses are fundamental and unresolved questions that have never been treated seriously. We intend to take them up at last. We will no longer sacrifice “secondary” for “principal”. We will no longer accept structural responses to political questions.

We will remain politically active in the union, community, and women’s struggles in our lives. We will keep in touch with the practice and participate in the debates of people at the Congress. Only a climate of mutual learning and respect for positions will be acceptable to us. We accept the responsibility to help create such a climate. We are firmly convinced that process is not “secondary” to content, and that it is ultimately a political question which very much determines the character of any conclusions reached. This question is our priority.

We hope that others who share our questions and concerns (and those who disagree as well) will keep in touch. We can be reached by mail at Box 69284, Station K, Vancouver, B.C. V5K 4W5.

We hope to be able to work together with our old comrades in the near future.