First Published: In Struggle! No. 269, October 28, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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On October 6, about fifteen of us got together (members, supporters and contacts of IS! to start debating the CC decisions of last April. The get together was held after our cell plenary decided to hold like sessions every two or three weeks. The idea is to help everybody formulate their views prior to the congress. We discussed our political tasks.
The first time around, most people said they agreed with the April 1981 decisions, namely that “in the next period, we will step up our theoretical and propaganda work.” But a number of fears were expressed too. Everyone especially agreed that we must not become a study group. Our study must be linked to our mass practice; it must be directed at enabling us to understand what’s going on (attacks, of the bourgeoisie, militant trends) so we can intervene more effectively.
Some comrades, however, expressed strong opposition to the resolution because it second guesses the orientation set by the 3rd congress. They argued that winning over and recruiting people should be done on the basis of the leadership we provide, our tactical line and the alternatives we put forward. The leadership has got itself bogged down in study and hat been unable to provide any practical leadership. This is due to the implementation of the decisions reached by the put two CC meetings (June 1980 and April 1981). The result is that the organization is now out of touch. The organization’s job is to draw the general lessons from particular struggles and simultaneously do a bit of research. But the time spent on research should be guaged in terms of how it affects the leadership we are able to give to struggles. Finally, it is not true that our problems are due to the crisis in the left because that has been around for 20 years. The crisis exists more as a result of internal problems, namely the gap between theoretical debates and practice.
This clearcut position got a real debate going and different positions became more precise. Here are the views people expressed in no particular order:
– Yes, we will recruit people on the basis of our practice but it will also be on the basis of the political vision we are projecting. We don’t have any vision right now because we have rejected all the models.
– We cannot expect to rebuild the unity among ourselves within the organization simply by intervening in the masses. We have to take the time it takes to look at the errors we have made and analyze history in order to be able to progress in dealing with immediate struggles.
– We must recognize that a crisis exists. It’s healthy. Some questions demand answers like what type of organization do we need, what kind of work must we do and what role must we play in the unions etc.
– at this point, the way we go about study, the practical result of trying to develop theory more is that we spend a lot of time with books like we were in a study group. I don’t go for that.
– Study is for knowledge but it is mostly to draw lessons from practical experience. We have ways of training people theoretically. Why don’t we train people “practically” how to agitate, how to develop politically-based ties with the masses, what is concretely involved in doing agitation and propaganda.
– We wait too much for things to come down from up top. We need to learn how to think for ourselves. Study is important insofar as it enables us to answer the questions raised by the masses and the questions that we end up posing too.
– The masses are the ones who will answer the questions we are posing. You don’t recruit people because of your analysis of history, but because of the political leadership you provide. Workers who join do so because they want to have some political leadership.
– The organizatiiin should carry on several tasks at the same time. They should readjust the priority accorded each as the situation changes. I have the impression though that they are all drained by the study they are doing and have no time left to provide political and practical leadership. That’s not right. But if your thinking stops there the only conclusion you can draw is that the leadership must change. I think that means debating what kind of organization we need, what type of leadership, what the role of leadership and the rank and file are in a democratic organization etc. But I do not agree, however, with changing everything right now.
– The last session on the 1917 period made it possible to see what the issues were in that period and their implications for today as well. We should continue in that direction. But we also need political education about the crisis, unemployment and the cutbacks because our ability to do mass work depends on our understanding of these things.
– We have got to understand that the questions we are posing – democracy, what kind of organization we need, what it means to be an activist – are being posed by the masses too. You have to offer practical leadership but you have to put forward an alternative too. The fact that we are not a proletarian organization is having an effect on the decisions we are making. I’m against theory for theory’s sake and practice for practice’s sake. We want to understand the work we are doing among the masses. We have a tendency to lay out our point of view real fast and not take the time to debate with people and get to know them. Before the leadership had the knowledge and the rank and file executed. The base has to take up all questions because theory comes from practice, from a synthesis of what has been learned from practice. The leadership which today is cut off from the membership and the masses should grapple with the problems that arise from our practical work in struggles.
This latter viewpoint summed up pretty well the feelings of the majority at the end of the meeting. Agreement with doing theoretical work if that means seeking to improve our understanding of the objective situation we are acting upon and our role and being better able to answer the questions posed by other comrades and the masses. It is clear that what these theoretical tasks are needs to be clarified because some people say they are for doing theory if it is tied to our practical work while others are against because they don’t want to have anything to do with the kind of theoretical work they’ve been through in the past year. The whole issue of recruitment not being based on our mass work but on our analysis needs to be made clear too. It is a change from what the 3rd congress decided. We would like to know why the change has been made.
A Montreal cell