First Published: In Struggle! No. 285, April 21, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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We are writing this position to explain why we still continue to defend the point of view that Marxist-Leninist theory has valuable contributions to make to the development of revolutionary practice and theory. We are not intellectual theoreticians, but to date we have yet to see any political theory that adequately addresses the historical development of human society and how the oppressed majority will transform the capitalist epoch. Nor, might we add, have we found anywhere in the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin any attempt to claim they were the only revolutionary theorists of the time. Rather they challenged their contemporaries to prove the validity of their criticisms and differing orientations in the struggle for Socialism.
Despite fundamental weaknesses in the Marxist-Leninist theoretical framework, it has still provided revolutionaries with a basic critique of capitalist society. Unlike other Socialist theories, ranging from Anarchism to Social Democracy, it has attempted to define how and by what means the oppressed majority will seize power and maintain it.
It is certainly true that certain applications of this theory have lead to situations which appear to have more in common with Fascism than Socialism. The evolution of the post 1917 society in the U.S.S.R. is but one clear example of this reality. Unfortunately we know of no other alternative Socialist theoretical framework that has allowed the working class to do more than aspire for the eventual transformation of capitalist society. The best that can be said for Social Democracy is that it has become one more reformist apology for the excesses of capitalism. No other Socialist theory has even come close to achieving power, let alone implementing its policies.
After nearly a year of intensified research, thousands of pages of text and verbal bickering, we are no further ahead in providing a comprehensive theoretical framework for revolution than when we started. Not only have the majority of our membership have been unable to follow the anarchistic debates, but debates have developed in such a manner as to ignore the concrete reality of all but a handful of full time intellectuals. Our organization looks more like a three-ring circus than one dedicated to the struggle for Socialism. In case you hadn’t realized, our structures, raison d’etre and value as a reference point in the working class and masses is all but finished. The one lesson we have learned is that it is very dangerous to take the practices of certain revolutionary parties and their leaders in one historic era and transform them into deified principles in another. We thought this reality was developing with the publication of IB. no 40, but feel it was lost in the emerging theoretical chaos of our pre-congress debates.
To their credit, the women’s movement in IN STRUGGLE! has followed this path and provided a devastating critique of the failure of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice to deal adequately with women’s reality. Not only have we been able to follow and participate in the debate, but we think we understand the stakes of the various tendencies. Unfortunately, like many modern revolutionary feminists, we felt our women’s movement has yet to provide a comprehensive analytical framework which would lead to the adoption of tactical and strategic policies, never mind a way of organizing ourselves in a single revolutionary organization. We now know what women don’t want, what various feminist tendencies think can be achieved under capitalism, but not how to get there with or without the participation of men. Whether all the women in our organization still believe in the struggle for Socialism is unclear. Given the concrete reality of women in our organization and the size of the theoretical task they have had to grapple with we think their contribution to the pre-congress debates stands way above many others. While we disagree with the emerging perspective of the National Women’s Committee we respect the fact that, unlike many male leaders, they have attempted to organize collective debates with both the women in our organization and the women’s movement outside.
In contrast, various male dominated tendencies have tended to ignore the women’s debate. The text “For a more materialist approach...”, for example, informed us that we live in the era of “relative democracy”. How the hell can you call a society in which the female population lives in daily fear of both physical and mental mutilation democratic, never mind all the other anti-democratic measures used by the Canadian capitalist class both inside and outside the country (e.g. patriation of the constitution) we do not know. We guess they and their followers are going to return to the never-never land of Social Democracy. We would suggest they talk to ex-CCF’ers in Saskatchewan about why they have left the NDP after 28 years of CCF/NDP rule. Remember the last federal election, where workers spontaneously placed ads in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald calling on workers not to vote NDP (IS no. 191)? Well guess what? We are about to have a provincial election and the NDP has not only just legislated 5,000 hospital workers back, but totally outlawed the right to strike until after the election.
The Editor in Chief and Chief correspondence editor have launched an attack on Marxism-Leninism, including censorship, outright suppression and ridicule of those comrades who present material to them that attempts to defend a Marxist-Leninist perspective. To date we are aware of a near-continuous attempt to censor material that was critical of Social Democracy (articles and letters submitted from comrades in Regina) to a refusal to publish a review of Partners In Imperialism: The Canadian Labour Congress and Social Democracy in the Third World published by the Saskatoon Solidarity Committee. This aside, what theoretical framework they believe in, how they will implement it and what kind of organization they will build to achieve their goals is unclear. It seems to us they are very eloquent on criticism, but very short on democratic solutions... a mere paragraph (IS no. 283). They say they regard the concepts of the single party, implicitly democratic-centralism, and dictatorship of the proletariat as fundamentally anti-worker and anti-democratic.
Comrades, we ask you what kind of a society do we live in? Is it a multi-value society where various segments of the population govern themselves according to their socio-economic political state in Canada? Is it relatively democratic or do we face a constant bombardment of ideological, social, economic and physical restraints that just about control every facet of our daily lives... the degree depending on the class. sex, race, etc. we belong to? And how have all previous societies been governed, in a multi-faceted manner or minority dictatorships? And how were these societies transformed? Were they transformed by the majority of people peacefully agreeing that the existing socio-economic relations were inappropriate or were new epochs brought to birth by lengthy and vicious struggles led by a vanguard (e.g. the French Revolution)?
Do the majority of people in Nicaragua recognize the FSLN as the vanguard or are they demanding equal rights for capitalist parties? Did 10 million workers in Poland form 6 unions or attempt to build one, and why? Did the people of El Salvador create one revolutionary front to lead various mass organizations or several? Do various military forces operate individually in confronting the state apparatus? No, the people of Nicaragua, Poland and El Salvador have attempted to create a single revolutionary vanguard for they realize it is the only road to Socialism. These may not be “Marxist-Leninist” parties, but the fact remains that these people desire to work as one.
Workers, when on strike, excercize a form of democratic centralism. They take a vote which is binding on every member if the majority vote in favour of the strike. Nor do the majority take kindly to individuals and minorities who violate the will of the majority. Just ask scabs about formal and informal sanctions that are taken against them. They range from isolating scabs on the job, to throwing them out of the union, to physical assaults on personal property and the person(s) concerned.
In Nicaragua democratic rights have been suspended in the name of rooting out those who attack the collective will. Is this to be regarded as the same as the imposition of martial law in Poland? No. We face a worldwide system that at each and every stage of the struggle is both well organized and specialized to deal with stopping its downfall. The millions of workers, women and other strata who have been maimed and murdered during this century are a testimony to this. Organizing in mass movements, demonstrations, parliamentary elections, etc. will not allow us to confront armed police. para-military death squads, an army with weapons ranging from tanks to nuclear weapons. We need more than our collective desires and bare hands. We need to merge our different needs and struggle against divisive privileges and attitudes that do not allow for creation of a comprehensive revolutionary strategy and organization.
In conclusion we do not deny the fundamental errors and flaws of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. We welcome the chance to work with and use ideas put forward by Socialist-Feminists, Trotskyists, and other Socialists and progressives. To be blunt, we think some comrades’, and we don’t mean to be disrespectful, theoretical musings and actions are becoming more than a little hesitant in facing up to the reality of the struggle for Socialism. If we have to choose between “For a more materialist approach...” and the Editor in Chief and Correspondent Editor’s reflections and those who are ridiculed for defending certain aspects of the program, we’ll take the program and constitution any day.
As a Socialist miner in B.C. said in 1902: “We must make the laws and administer them: it is time, full time, for it is evident, painfully evident, that they are not made nor administered in the interest of the masses, and will not be until the masses take over power so infamously misused by those into whose hands it has been entrusted.” A sentiment that we feel reflects not only the continuing reality of Canadian society, but the situation in IN STRUGGLE! in March 1982.
Three members in Regina who support B.C., the collective of 30 and group of 4