Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A congress of confusion

by Jacques Saintonge

First Published: In Struggle! No. 288, June 22, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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A tendency that criticized vanguardism and that should therefore have been in favour of discussing divergences in a spirit of unity wanted to dissolve IN STRUGGLE! before the congress even began. After having denigrated the leading role of proletarian women, a strong majority voted in favour of the resolution on intervention in the masses that said that it is the masses as a whole who must make revolution; yet 70% of the masses in Canada are proletarian... Women who felt the need for an autonomous women’s organization to have more time for more serious study of the women’s question, usually secondarized in political parties because of male chauvinism or the many issues a political party must deal with and the lack of time left for studying the condition of women – these women suddenly demanded that a basically polemical resolution on the women’s question, a resolution therefore devoted to one aspect of this question (the class struggle among women) deal in a total way with all aspects of the woman question. Finally, people who put a lot of stress on individuality composed a curious monolithic bloc made up of Marxist-Leninists who wanted to review their ideas critically, anti-Marxist communists (anarchists, in fact) and left social democrats; this monolithic bloc was as well fairly sectarian and for the moat part not very interested in achieving unity.

Yet, when the resolution on women was rejected, even the women who defended the resolution admitted that it had many shortcoming. Despite what the sectarians from “Cahiers brouillons” and those close to them would like to think, the majority of those who spoke did not basically disagree; only a minority of them challenged the leading role of proletarian women or women who reproduce proletarians in the struggle against patriarchy. The resolution on interventions in the masses that criticized vanguardism was passed by a big majority: people of all tendencies voted for it – something that should have been noticed.

The resolutions rejected the next morning included passages like these: “The task of building the camp of revolution and raising the level of consciousness of the masses is not reserved exclusively to communists, although they have an important and specific role to play in this sense.” (point 1 in the Resolution on IN STRUGGLE!’s basis of unity); or again, “The process of building the revolutionary forces and consciousness is not the property of communists, even if we have a specific and important role to play. We are participants.” (point 20 of the Resolution on a basis of unity for a revolutionary communist organization). These are criticisms of vanguardism. A process of ideological unification was under way; it was blocked. Why?

The problem was the make-up of the majority. First of all, the majority consensus committee was not a working committee, but a committee designed to work out a consensus, points of agreement, among those rejecting the programme. For instance, the second text produced by the consensus was written in a single evening. That gives an idea of how little discussion there was in this context. This majority included communists who wanted to reexamine their ideas in a critical spirit, who were there precisely because their ideas were unclear. But there were others, the anarchists and left social democrats, who did have some clear ideas – on the break with Marxism-Leninism, for instance. Their strategy was to split with the Marxist-Leninists. They were therefore not interested in the unification of Marxist-Latinists. As always, it was those with clear ideas who played a leading role (there’s that term again) vis-a-vis those whose ideas were not clear.

This meant that the committee of 30 and its allies found themselves, faced with two different sets of arguments in defence of the same resolution. This explains why they were, understandably, so mistrustful. The communist said: “We have to attach more importance to reforms becaused we want to build democratic socialism and power will be exercised through the popular organizations that are built in the struggle for reforms. Successes in the struggle for reforms improve the conditions for struggles for further reforms, the masses become conscious in the struggle and acquire confidence in their own resources and can thus better assimilate the communist programme and thereby adapt it to their needs and rework it. But one day we will have to overthrow the bourgeoisie with violence and destroy the bourgeois State, for people’s power cannot be won through a series of reforms.” But then came the anarchist or left social democrat who argued: “We have to attach more importance to reforms because the bourgeoisie won’t dare to challenge the reforms won out of fear of opposition from the majority.” The communist said: “We should not ignore the progress it is possible to make in democratizing the State, for we have to take account of the masses’ aspirations for democracy. But the nature of the State has not changed, even if certain aspects have changed (it is more interventionist, for example), and it will have to be destroyed through violence.” The anarchist or left social democrat replied: “The nature of the State has changed since it is more interventionist and some of its structures are more democratic (LCSCs. etc.). Furthermore, the bourgeoisie prefers the Conservative Party to the Liberals and it is the latter that is in power (yet the bourgeoisie subsidizes all these parties). As well, the bourgeoisie will back down as we win reforms.”

On top of this, the second resolution from the majority consensus dropped most of the section called “Staying revolutionary” in the first resolution that talked about what we wanted to keep in the programme. As you can see, discussion was short-circuited right from the start. Personally, I would have opposed dropping this section, but the decision was made in English and I didn’t realize what had happened. I didn’t see the final version of the text and that was why my signature appeared at the end of a text I would not have approved (another part I disagreed with was the part on organization, or rather, disorganization).

I did not like the attitude of the left social democrats who constantly hid behind the majority consensus and never put forward their own point of view clearly and in writing. As for the anarchists, they were honest enough to say clearly what they thought. But as was to be expected, they distorted Marxism-Leninism in order to refute it.

For Prevost-Castoriadis, the evolution of society is explained by the evolution of technique. This is wrong: the evolution of society is explained by the level of productive forces. For example, you still don’t need anything more than a pen and paper to do fundamental research in modern mathematics, and we all know the role played by mathematics in the development of the sciences. They also say that Marx never explained why economics determined society in the final analysis. Wrong again: man’s primary concern is his survival, and this explains the primacy of economic life. Furthermore, economic life is decisive in the final analysis: this implies that the other aspects of human beings (psychology, sex, male domination and patriarchy, sciences, religion, politics, etc.) have a relative autonomy; economic laws’ are different from natural laws because they can be transformed. The fact that Stalinist bureaucrats distorted Marxism-Leninism by making the economic directly decisive for everything and totally discarding the revolutionary initiative of the masses does not take away anything from Marxism-Leninism – any more than the fact that Pinochct claims to be democratic takes away from the idea of democracy (or at,least of proletarian democracy). This brings us to one of the governing ideas of the editor of the newspaper: it was Stalin, not Marx, Engels and Lenin, who made Marxism-Leninism a reality; this allows one to blame all the Stalinist atrocities on Marxism-Leninism. Apart from vanguardism, I don’t see what idea Leninism and Stalinism have in common. And even here there is only a distant similarity: under socialism, the Leninist vanguard aims at the withering away of the State and simultaneously of its own leading role; its goal is therefore to make the masses autonomous. The Stalinist vanguard aims at strengthening the State and its own leading role. For the Marxist-Leninist, the masses make history. For the Stalinist, it is the economy or the party that makes history.

As far democratic centralism, Lenin recognized the right to factions in his party up until 1921 – in other words, under the Czarist dictatorship and in the midst of civil war. He only withdrew this right at a time when the Bolsheviks were isolated from the population and when any division at all in the party could have led to catastrophe. But this decision was meant to apply to certain specific conditions. Democratic centralism means a maximum of democracy and a minimum of centralism, depending on the requirements of current conditions. [1] For Stalin, the organizational principle of the party was instead a maximum of centralization and a minimum of democracy, depending on current conditions. Thus our old constitution had nothing to do with democratic centralism. Why was the Stalinist model of building socialism the one that prevailed? Because the Stalinist social-imperialist bourgeoisie had vast material resources at its disposal to impose its vision of socialism. To give an example of this material power: it was not until Khrushchev’s denunciations that the Western bourgeois press began to massively denounce the Stalinist purges.

I don’t have enough space to refute all the gratuitous affirmations of our two anarchists one by one. But one thing it makes me think of: Marxism-Leninism must be generally correct if one is forced to distort it or to hide behind the majority consensus in order to refute it. Indeed, the social democrats were dishonest in not clearly stating their allegiances to the French Socialist Party: the committee of 30 looked as though it was distorting texts because it had to argue with them on the basis of texts that were not written by them! One more way of sabotaging the debate!

I hope the communists who sided with the majority consensus will continue to debate with us and will not let themselves be influenced by the anti-Marxists who will try to suggest that it is not worth debating further with us because we are supposedly irreductible dogmatists. As for me, I have a lot more confidence in my new tendency. Being a proletarian myself, I was able to see that the majority consensus reproduced the same attitudes of intellectuals dominating workers. I think you have to be a worker to clearly perceive the domination of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, just as you have to be a woman to clearly perceive male domination. My new tendency, however, has a majority of proletarians. The committee of 30 has already done an inquiry among the proletarians in its own ranks to ask them how they think they can take their rightful place in a communist organization. That is already a lot more in practice than the majority consensus did.

Jacques Saintonge


[1] Inasmuch as the committee of 30 and its allies recognize the right of tendencies and inasmuch as the critique of vanguardism has been begun, I think we are renewing this Leninist tradition.