Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Should IN STRUGGLE! be dissolved?

by John Cleveland

First Published: In Struggle! No. 286, May 4, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Should IN STRUGGLE! be dissolved? In my opinion, it will be unless we manage to overcome three hurdles blocking the development of concrete political solutions to the immediate problems we face.

HURDLE #1: many people are still hesitant about taking a clear stand for or against the programme.

The overwhelming majority of members and supporters no longer see the programme as our basis of unity. More than that, most have privately reached conclusions rejecting basic conceptions in the programme: an undemocratic approach to socialism and the revolutionary process where the single vanguard party dominates; the economist, reductionist conception of oppression and exploitation which results in opposing feminism etc.

However, some people are still influenced by the argument that regardless of their criticisms we should not take a stand to reject the programme based on those criticisms. The argument is that to do so means “abandoning communist principles” for “reformism”. The collective of 30 and others argue that the political crisis in IS! is due to a downturn in the workers movement. In the face of increasing difficulties for those “going against the tide” with a communist view, members of IS! are capitulating and conciliating with anti-Marxist ideologies (feminism, nationalism, but above all reformism). This may make those who are defending the programme feel good about themselves but it masks a more fundamental reality: the crisis of Marxism.

Yes, it is true that in a period of deepening economic crisis and widespread war the advanced workers and progressives we hoped to rally are not joining the communist movement. But this begs the question. Is it because they are not prepared to fight? Is it because only the vanguard is capable of more than reformist consciousness? Or is it because both the long-term solution (model of socialism like-in-the-socialist-countries etc.) and short-term solutions (how to fight national oppression, crisis, war etc. in a non-revolutionary situation) that we Marxists are advancing are discredited to the point we are not even considered seriously as any kind of political option by the masses?

It is not reformist to reject certain Marxist conceptions which have been proven wrong by practice. Indeed, it is the test of how serious we are as revolutionaries about changing the world instead of maintaining the “purity” of our ideological understanding of it. Voting to reject the programme is facing up to the crisis of Marxism and taking the first step to “opening up” to other socialists and progressives, to making ourselves a relevant option that sections of the masses can start to take seriously.

HURDLE # 2: many of those proposing new political perspectives fail to go far enough in proposals for a new way of doing politics that would challenge the “domination of male, petty-bourgeois intellectuals”.

A major task for the next period will be doing the theoretical work to confront the crisis of Marxism. Most proposals to date have concentrated on this aspect. But many comrades don’t want to be in an organization – regardless of the perspectives it adopts – if the theoretical “heavies” are the leaders and our practical work is dictated by the priorities and pace of that work. They want an organization where most people have “real involvement” in mass struggles and where effective control of decision-making is in the hands of those activists.

Two changes are necessary in how we view the role of intellectuals. First, practical political leadership in relation to the masses inside and outside the organization must be the main criterion for selecting leaders, not theoretical knowledge or skill as an intellectual. Our conceptions of leadership and methods of leading must change too. We must become an organization of organizers where the main task for most people is mass work.

But working to progressively reduce the domination of intellectuals in leadership and to get rid of intellectualist ways of debate and decision-making does not mean we should discourage intellectuals from being intellectuals or downgrade the importance of theoretical work. Intellectuals must not be censored or guilted in the name of the single “proletarian” party line; they should be encouraged to do serious scientific and artistic work and do what they do best – question, criticize, hypothesize.

Unless we make these changes we are likely to come out of the congress with a new political orientation but with precious few people who are prepared to continue as members to apply that orientation.

HURDLE # 3: many people still want to postpone the adoption of any new perspectives until “the rank and file understands the debate better”[1]

The argument against adopting new perspectives is twofold: first, that the intellectual way that the leadership has conducted the debate has made it impossible for the membership to understand the stakes of the two options; and second, that the debate among the leadership is a false debate between “two superpowers” and that a really new politics can only come from the base.

It is true that the debate has been intellectual and difficult. This has been true of the contributions from all sides of the debate and is evidence of the shortcomings built into our whole monolithic structure led by an elite of ideological experts. But the debate has not been so abstract that members cannot tell the difference between two opposing stands on what to do about that structure and approach to politics that have caused all those problems in the debate – one side is challenging it and the other side is basically defending it.

Furthermore, it is simply not true that two completely different debates are going on, one among the “concrete’ people at the base and another among the “abstract” people in the leadership. Both rank and file and leadership have run up against the fact that there are a lot of questions we just simply don’t have answers to. The crisis of Marxism is deeper than most would care to admit. There is a tendency to look for a scapegoat to blame this on. I have attended literally dozens of meetings and national and regional conferences, read reports and had discussions with people from a cross-section of cells in all regions in the past 6 months: Everybody has got lots of good reasons to be angry with other comrades for the sectarian way we have treated or ignored one another and for the misunderstanding and lack of understanding of different political positions which exists as a result. But the basic content of the debate is in fact the same everywhere.

In a very short time we will be asked to vote upon that content. We have three hurdles to get over if we hope to come out of the congress with the political clarity and unity necessary to have a valid revolutionary organization. Here’s hoping we have the political courage to leap over all three, even if there are lots of questions about what the ground will be like on the other side when we land.

John Cleveland
Workers movement journalist


[1] I agree will the comrades (see page 4) who suggest that the resolutions on new perspectives be postponed to a 5th congress if they are talking about on some kind of detailed tactical line on how to unite communists that the whole organization would be expected to apply. What I am saying is that we need a general positive definition of our orientation and tasks so that the various cells, collectives and regions can experiment within a broad shared framework for the next year at which time we would have another congress to debate a more detailed line. Implicit unity is not enough.